After many weeks of being closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s finally possible to enjoy a cold beer at a local brewery.
An executive order by Gov. Roy Cooper is letting restaurants reopen as of 5 p.m. on Friday, May 22 — but not bars, a classification that initially also included brewery taprooms without kitchens and indoor dining. Then guidance was issued late afternoon on May 22, permitting brewery spaces to welcome customers inside for service complying with social distancing regulations. The distinction is based on breweries, wineries, cideries and distilleries being entities “principally engaged in the business of producing alcoholic beverages for commercial sale off-premises,” whereas bars are “businesses that are principally engaged in the business of selling alcoholic beverages for onsite consumption.”
It was a surprising reversal of North Carolina’s Phase 2 reopening plans for restaurants as originally announced on May 20. When breweries were left out of those plans, there was disappointment across the state. Most area breweries do not have kitchens and rely on food trucks to feed customers, and those with and without kitchens had been busy in recent days preparing for safely reopening by removing some seating, cleaning and calling back furloughed staff.
In a press release, the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild says the pandemic shutdown “has devastated” craft brewing, The group thanked Cooper for letting brewery taprooms reopen. The group counts 328 breweries, taprooms and brewpubs across North Carolina.
Not all local breweries will immediately reopen, choosing to stay closed at least for a few more days, but multiple restaurant breweries are reopening. Wicked Weed Brewing is resuming dining room business on Saturday, May 23, at its original pub on Biltmore Avenue and at its Funkatorium on Coxe Avenue. Bar seating is temporarily unavailable, but spokesman Kyle Pedersen says customers can order from a paper menu that will be cleaned after each use or use their smartphones to scan a QR code to order. Touchless payment options are also available, and door handles and light switches will be regularly cleaned and disinfected.
At All Sevens Brewing, part of the Westville Pub restaurant, owner/operator Drew Smith and his staff have taken down the plywood covers from the building’s windows and reopened the minute Phase 2 was implemented. Smith brought back almost all of his 40 furloughed employees and is currently hiring. The operation will have 50% capacity and a limited menu. “We’re rockin’ and rollin’,” he says.
The Thirsty Monk is also reopening this weekend, but only at its Biltmore Park location, says owner Barry Bialik. “We will have food and beer and we’ll have tables spaced out,” he says. He expects to reopen the downtown Top of the Monk and original franchise location in about a week.
Asheville Brewing Co., which has restaurants at both its Coxe Avenue and Merrimon Avenue locations, will reopen in a week, says company President Mike Rangel, who cites a need for more time to be ready for customers. Outdoor seating will be added at the Merrimon Avenue location in a side parking lot. At Coxe Avenue, seating will be on the covered patio. Rangel does not plan to open the Merrimon Avenue location’s discount cinema for some time.
UpCountry Brewing Co. will reopen Thursday, May 28. “We’re taking some extra time to make sure the employees will be safe,” says owner John Cochran.
Elsewhere, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is keeping its brewery and taproom closed for now, and Bhramari Brewing Co. will reopen its brewery and restaurant on Monday, June 1.