Utah brewers enter the world of takeout and delivery to survive coronavirus setbacks

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A customer picks up takeout food from Level Crossing in South Salt Lake on Thursday, March 26, 2020.

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Two weeks ago, Mark Medura was planning a one-year anniversary party for his South Salt Lake brewery.

Today — in a strange, coronavirus pivot — he and his employees at Level Crossing Brewing Co., 2496 S. West Temple, are taking orders for pizza delivery and pickup.

When sit-down dining at Utah eateries was banned last week, it was not only a punch in the pocketbook for restaurants and bars but also a blow for Utah brewpubs that serve food.

“This is unprecedented,” Medura said. “We’re hoping with takeout and delivery and beer sales we can bridge this for 30 days — if not longer.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A customer picks up takeout food from Level Crossing in South Salt Lake on Thursday, March 26, 2020.

It’s a similar story at Salt Lake City’s Hopkins Brewing Co., 1048 E. 2100 South. “We’ve been so busy,” owner Chad Hopkins said of the days before the pandemic. “We were constantly hitting sales records.”

But then, he was forced to lay off the kitchen staff — save for the kitchen manager.

The beer tanks at Hopkins Brewing were full and the kitchen had food “and I didn’t want to waste anything,” he said. So he signed up with DoorDash and Grubhub and is offering delivery and curbside pickup Wednesday through Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m.

While all Utah beer brewers have been affected by the health orders, the impact has been different depending on the type of business, said Nicole Dicou, executive director of the Utah Brewers Guild.

Salt Lake City’s Fisher Brewing Co., which doesn’t have a kitchen and serves only beer on draft, has shut down temporarily.

T.F. Brewing, Kiitos, Shades and other producers that can or bottle beer are able to continue production, selling their products at grocery stores, liquor stores and their on-site package agencies.

Many have laid off staff, are working with their landlords to postpone rent payments or are working with banks on debt consolidation and small-business loans, Dicou said.

Those that can also are moving ahead with production. “They have the supplies and want to keep people employed,” she said. “But we are not sure where we will be two, three, four months from now.”

Dicou said it’s difficult to tell how the pandemic will affect Utah’s beer-brewing landscape, which has boomed over the past five years. Today, there are 33 craft breweries that produce more than 193,000 barrels of beer each year and pump $441 million into the state economy.

The state’s 34th brewery, Grid City Beer Works, 333 E. 2100 South, in South Salt Lake, was supposed to open last week. The official ribbon-cutting has been delayed, she said, “which was a huge disappointment.”

Beer brewers were experiencing far different emotions a few months ago, when they were celebrating Utah’s shift to higher alcohol beers in grocery stores. Yet even in the best of times, making beer in a state with some of the strictest liquor laws in the country can be difficult.

Dicou said in the wake of COVID-19, the state could make some temporary changes to liquor laws that could help. The first would be allowing curbside pickup for alcohol, a move that California recently made.

Reducing the state excise tax on beer would be another. Last year, Utah upped the tax by 30 cents per barrel, from $12.80 to $13.10. That increase, Dicou said, “hurt smaller producers.”

“A lot of brewers are in a fragile position right now,” she said, “and need support from state and local government.”