Craft breweries closed over COVID-19 may soon be tapped out

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – South Florida craft breweries are reaching out to Gov. Ron DeSantis for help. They say if they can't open up their tap rooms soon and start selling to restaurants, they are going under.

About 100 microbreweries across the state are desperate to save their suds.

Yonathan Ghersi, the owner of 26 Degree Brewing in Pompano Beach, said he feels as if businesses like his have been singled out.

His business is a 21,000 square foot brewery with a tap room.

Last week, he furloughed 7 people. " . . . Front of house and back of house. Our brewery production team has also taken salary cuts."

Breweries that aren’t licensed to serve food are not allowed to open since COVID-19 shutdowns, but restaurants with bars are?

“What is the difference between having a plate of fries next to your beer or just having a beer at your table? Does the plate of fries automatically make it that you can’t catch COVID?” Ghersi asked.

In an open letter to DeSantis and Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) Secretary Halsey Beshears posted on Facebook, the Florida Brewers Guild (FBG) said restricting operations to “to-go only” is unsustainable for the state’s 320 “brew pubs.”

"We need your help. The entire Florida Craft Brewing Industry is now in jeopardy. . . The vast majority of over 320 small businesses represents 10,000 jobs."

The association said breweries are existing solely on “to go” business, which is less than 10 percent of their sales.

At one point during the pandemic, breweries were allowed to open if they were paired with a food truck, but that was eliminated.

“It’s bad because we are doing ‘to go’ sales when every other restaurant is open. If someone wants to have a beer, they aren’t going to stop by the brewery to pick up a six-pack to go, they are going to one of the hundreds of restaurants sit and have a beer,” Ghersi said.

We asked Adam Feingold who owns Bangin’ Banjo Brewing, also in Pompano Beach, if his business could survive just on take out?

"No. Definitely not the way things are right now. We are looking at changing our business model and focus more on distribution and canning, but that takes time and capital," Feingold said.

Craft breweries were closed March 17, along with other bars and restaurants, then allowed to re-open in June. They were closed again during the recent surge in cases and new restrictions put into place with the option of “to go” only.

Feingold said that the few weeks that they were opened in June, they had reduced hours, limited seating, a mask mandatory, and were following rules closely. “Breweries have never been a place where people get rowdy,” he said.

Both owners said they easily could easily continue to adhere to social distancing regulations and other safety protocols, if they were given the chance.

"All of our tables here are 8 feet apart. Our capacity is 316. We only have 96 chairs set up. We were only operating at 30 percent capacity. We have hand sanitizing stations for our staff. Breweries in Florida are just looking for a fair shot," Ghersi said.

The business owner is looking to put a pizza oven in and apply for a license to serve food, but all of that takes time.

"Breweries in Florida are just looking for a fair shot. They are looking to operate under the same conditions as everyone else," Ghersi said.

Florida Brewers Guild representatives said the governor had not responded to their letter.

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