Is anyone else bummed about the May Grey, and impending June Gloom? If only there was something that could cheer me up. Oh wait, there is! Beer! Beer and for the first time in a long, long time going out into the world. There are certainly challenges to re-engaging, and old social skills need to be relearned, but there are plenty of beers to try along the path.
Bagby Beer has, like me, also been in a state of hibernation. From the beginning, they were one of the breweries that understood the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic and all the possible what-if’s that came with it. I reached out to Dande Bagby, co-owner of Bagby Beer with her husband Jeff, to see how they are doing at this moment, and if, like me, they are starting to reengage with the world.
Cheers!: Hey Dande, thanks for catching me up on what’s going on at Bagby. You’ve been very honest with your customers about the impact of Covid-19 throughout the past 13 months. At this moment, what is the physical and emotional status of your company and team?
Dande: Of course! Like everyone, the COVID-19 pandemic had a massive impact on our business and on us as individuals. It is not hyperbole to say that we are forever changed, our business is forever changed, and also that we are so tired! It has been an emotionally and physically exhausting endeavor that is really tough to put into words.
One of the realities of owning a business is that to at least some degree, you have a say over the direction things go, and some influence over that. This situation upended that paradigm in some ways, as the ability to steer the outcome was out of our hands, or so it felt at the beginning.
It was clear that there was some diversity in how both people and businesses were handling the pandemic, how it was affecting them, and of course, we know now how polarizing and political the entire subject became.
We knew that our business and personal values would come into play, and as individuals, we are quite principled. This meant that we’d take a clear unwavering stance, and hold steady. So that is what we did, and continue to do! But, this isn’t without consequence.
Due to our delayed reopening, we have lost virtually all of our previous employees, save our Lead Brewer Brandon and our Executive Chef Robert. The original core of our team is quite small but is even more galvanized than ever because of everything we’ve been through together.
We have a new (much smaller) team, lead by our new and uber-experienced Operations Manager. Training started last Monday for the crew and is progressing. These are really great people who seem to really embrace the Bagby vision of committed hospitality and teamwork and we are thrilled to have them. It has allowed us to start at zero, and introduce them to us, our place, our goals and values, and that has been a fun and rewarding piece so far.
Cheers!: What does the near future hold for Bagby Brewing? How difficult is planning now compared to say, six months ago?
Dande: Bagby Beer will be different! We are affectionately referring to us as “Bagby 3.0” and much like a new software release, there are some new features. The structure and foundation remain intact and stronger than ever, but some of what our guests will experience will be unique. Our food menu, for example, is 100% new. There is no single dish that existed before.
We did so much reflection over the past year and realized that the food component was largely tied to what we offered when we opened, which was generally a reflection of our Chef at the time, and who we were then. We have changed, our Chef has been with us for coming up to 5 years, and we believe strongly in him and his talent. We needed him to reimagine the kitchen entirely, the staff, the food, the plating, everything. Our menu is awesome.
Every single dish has a story, some connection to an inspiration he or one of us has had. In general, the food is far more thoughtful, with depth, interesting ingredients and developed flavors. Oh, and nearly every dish will have a plant-based version—not a version that can be made plant-based—an actual designed and dedicated plant-based plate.
We’re pumped to share these dishes with everyone. We also know that there are tons of our guests who we love and have missed, that are really connected to our former menu. This is a big reason we didn’t make this shift before. But, the time is now. We have to uncouple ourselves so we can find a truer reflection of who we are now. We’d love for folks to come back with an open mind.
Ordering will be from the table, using our online ordering platform. This system has been upgraded nicely over the past 6 months or so, and we think it is working well. We will also offer counter/bar service for those who’d prefer to order in person. Reservations, large party and group events will start booking in July.
As far as planning, it is so much easier than it was three, four or five months ago when there were so many unknowns. All indications are that the pandemic is ebbing and we can reasonably anticipate that trend to continue, and that is a huge relief. There is still a lot of confusion though, and many regulations to navigate, so it will be great when we can just get back to normal operations.
Cheers!: You just launched a new canned beer program. Congratulations! What has the response been, and how did you choose which of your beers to make available in cans? Are there plans to distribute outside the brewery?
Dande: Cans are fun! It has been great fun to see our beers in this format—the ease of grabbing a 4-pack or case is so cool (versus hand-filling crowlers). So far the beers we have canned are those we had just brewed, so that has been the deciding factor. Also, label design can be a hold-up (I am our designer so when I am extra swamped our labels get delayed). We’re considering some off-site [distribution} for cans, but it’ll be limited.
We really would love to see folks take a 4-pack home with them after their time at the brewery, or swing through on their way to a barbecue to stock up. We have ordered a new 3-door reach-in [cooler] that we are installing in our main bar for this retail aspect.
Cheers!: What is the best way for North County residents to get their hands on the beer, and are you open on-site?
Dande: We are so close to opening for in-person dining and drinking —the summer of Bagby is happening in 2021! Right now, our beer is available for pick up via our online ordering platform.
Cheers!: Anything else you want readers to know about Bagby right now?
Dande: What a year. We are ready to get back to doing what we love, welcoming our friends and fans, and showing them a great time. Fingers crossed for smooth sailing from here.
In July of last year, I wrote a Cheers! column entitled, “Bagby is Back,” but then everything hit the fan again. With the reimagining of the Bagby Beer experience, and their impending re-opening I’m going to end this edition of Cheers! North County by saying Bagby is (almost) back! Order beer for pick-up (limited hours) at www.bagbybeer.com, and follow their Instagram @BagbyBeer for updates on their reopening.
If you like craft beer, you probably also love a good cup of coffee. Pour a mug, and check out the most recent episodes of the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast featuring interviews and coffee education with great local coffee professionals. Stream it now on The Coast News online or search for it on your favorite podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Thanks for listening, and for following Cheers! North County on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.