There was trepidation and adjustment among the staff at Wicked Weed Brewing as the brewery’s flagship brewpub reopened to dine-in customers on May 23. But the overwhelming feeling was one of unity and community, explains Horus Runako, a server and bartender who is nearing two years working at Wicked Weed’s Biltmore Avenue location.
His job didn’t stop in quarantine. When Gov. Roy Cooper ordered restaurants to cease all in-person dining in mid-March, Runako began assisting with Wicked Weed’s to-go food and beer delivery. The distraction was nice — there wasn’t much going on at home, he says, and the opportunity to earn some extra money sweetened the deal.
When he’s not working as a server, Runako is an actor. He’s landed roles on the Oprah TV show Greenleaf, the TV show Manhunt, and he recently did a commercial for Champion Credit Union. Because of the pandemic, most productions are on hold, making auditions hard to come by.
The first night the brewpub reopened was intense, he recalls. In an effort to mitigate as much direct contact as possible, Wicked Weed is now using an online menu that customers can access by scanning a QR code on their phones. When it’s time to pay the bill, customers scan a different QR code that directs them to a digital payment screen.
“As a busy server, I’m constantly running around in a scramble trying to keep everything organized. Sometimes, you just forget to pick up a check,” Runako says. “It’s strange, in this attempt to make things safer, they’re doing all of these things to increase efficiency and take steps to help service run smoother.”
Now, more than two weeks after the initial rush to get back to a restaurant, Runako sees customers searching for a return to normalcy, one beer at a time.
“There’s this general air of timid optimism that I’m seeing, including among co-workers,” he explains. “It’s the beginning of summer and people just seem happy to be out of their house. Being stuck in quarantine really took a toll on everyone, and there’s this sense of people coming together after a time of trauma. People are willing to wait an hour because they really want to drink a beer and have a conversation and be social.”
This article is part of COVID Conversations, a series of short features based on interviews with members of our community during the coronavirus pandemic in Western North Carolina. If you or someone you know has a unique story you think should be featured in a future issue of Xpress, please let us know at email@example.com.