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Societe Brewing Company, based in San Diego, features well-spaced seating, signage, masks, gloves and socially distanced staff. Photo by Ryan Woldt
Cheers! North CountyColumns

Cheers! North County: Venturing out to where safety is on tap, too

EDITOR’S Note: Click here for the complete interviews regarding their dine-in COVID-19 safety protocols with Stephanie Eppig, co-founder of Eppig Brewing, and Mike Boggess, VP of Operations at Societe Brewing Co.

For the first time in a long time, my beer fridge needed a refill, and I wanted to support local beer makers. In the old days, I would just head over to a brewery to pick some up, but I’ve been social distancing for so long it made me nervous to think about doing despite the fact that breweries have been open for dine-in for more than a week.

I decided that if I was going to leave my bunker, err, apartment in North County I wanted two things-great beer, and to be as safe as possible. Too many places have been touting their social distancing efforts while simultaneously posting Instagram photos with absolutely no distancing.

Sometimes they weren’t even wearing masks! I put the word out to beer-friends I was looking not just for safe places, but the safest places possible. Two names came up in almost every response-Societe and Eppig Brewing companies.

I reached out to the breweries to ask about their new COVID-19 safety protocols, how they were developed, and how it felt to know that would be having customers again. At Eppig, co-founder Stephanie Eppig was the driving force behind safety protocols. I asked her how it felt to find out they would be able to reopen.

The entry at Eppig Brewing in Vista. Photo by Ryan Woldt

“After being closed to the public for over two months, the notion of reopening came with a mixed bag of emotions from feeling overwhelmed to a sense of relief. With the rules, regulations and recommendations changing so often, we only had a few days to develop protocols and procedures, secure all the PPE and cleaning supplies needed to safely reopen, and train our team to make sure that a) they were safe & comfortable, and b) that our guests would feel safe and comfortable with the new requirements. All in all, it was daunting,” she replied.

Mike Boggess, Vice President of Operations at Societe spearheaded their efforts to create a safe drinking space. He also acknowledged the relief at knowing they would reopen and said a key component to the success of their efforts has been the “…recognition of the fact that there is no end game to safety, and we are going to stay in a proactive posture. It’s an ongoing process that requires constant maintenance which we are always learning from and tweaking as new information becomes available.

“Whether it’s contactless payment, allowing people to spread out into what was formally the parking lot to maintain distance from one another other, converting all of our tables from wood to easily sanitized surfaces, or the rigorous sanitation practices themselves, it’s not just the appearance of safety and thoughtfulness, it’s a very active approach made up of a lot of small details.”

Stephanie echoed similar sentiments.

“When we first reopened, we made updates daily, and we’re still evolving,” Stephanie said. “Partly because we learn better ways to do things each day, and partly because the rules shift constantly. One week we needed food served with beer, the next week we didn’t.

At Societe Brewing, VP of Operations Mike Boggess said the brewery’s success has been “the recognition of the fact that there is no end game to safety.” Photo by Ryan Woldt

“The list of changes is nearly as long as the protocols themselves. Most recently, we added ‘sanitized’ and ‘used’ cups for pens-something I saw at a recent visit to a car dealership! Our team should be credited with their professionalism and flexibility.

“Nearly every shift they’ve worked, they’ve adapted to new wrinkles added to their workload, and we’re so proud of how they rolled with all of it,” Stephanie said. “They’ve chimed in with suggestions and improvements, and their input has improved the protocols.”

Despite my research, reassurances from others and even speaking to the breweries themselves I still went to bed with a little anxiety. Little butterflies in the stomach led to a night of restless sleep. It’s hard to admit how something that so recently I wouldn’t have given another thought was tying me up in knots.

I even considered not going despite having already ordered beer to-go online, but the next day I decided I trusted both breweries enough to give it a shot.

I put on adulting clothes, you know the kind with buttons and zippers instead of elastic, grabbed a clean mask, pair of gloves, and headed out the door.

Pulling into Societe’s established takeout parking spot I was comforted by the signage indicating where to go, what to do to get my beer and seeing tables in their expanded outdoor seating spaced well over the required distance.

A “Beer To Go” sign at Societe Brewing. Photo by Ryan Woldt

Inside it was apparent the protocols had been well thought out and tested. Employees wore masks and gloves, and it was clear where it was safe to sit or go.

At Eppig it was more of the same. Signage, masks, gloves and a staff working hard to maintain a clean and safe environment so people can take a mental break, and have a beer.

If there was a breakdown in the system it wasn’t the fault of the breweries. It was me. I kept having to check myself. During my first foray back into the world it was hard not to approach the people I was talking too whether it was the bartender or a fellow patron with a snazzy Green Bay Packers cap.

It’s human nature when socializing to get close, to show them your smile (I kept forgetting I had the mask on), and create a connection. My own failings were the only things making me anxious.

Almost as if she could read my mind Stephanie said, “But the single-most-important aspect is compassion and communication with our guests. For very many of them, Eppig has been the first time they’ve ventured out of their house in three months, and they were understandably nervous, apprehensive.

“Welcoming them in, thanking them for wearing a mask, demonstrating the pathway to and from their tables to keep distance between parties, implementing technology to let them view digital menus at their table and open/close tabs from their phones, reducing time away from their tables and need to touch things, etc.

“For many guests, there was visible relief these things were in place, and they could finally, simply, think about enjoying their beer, the view, and conversations for the first time in months.”

A tip of my glass to Eppig and Societe. Even with my heightened COVID-19 paranoia and diligence, you exceeded my expectations. Someday it will be nice to look back at this pandemic as a moment in time, but until then I know these two breweries are going the extra mile to ensure as safe an opportunity to enjoy a pint as I can imagine.

Brewery Public Service Announcement: San Diego’s fine breweries are working hard to provide safe spaces for beer during this pandemic. There are a lot of rules and guidelines set forth for our safety. They deserve to receive the same level of effort and respect us as guests. So when you go to get a beer be cool! Wear the mask. Stay socially distant. Follow posted rules. Drink great beer.