Demonstrating the generous nature shown by many brewers in our midst, Brad Sancho credits his employees for helping keep Original Gravity Brewing Company operating during the COVID-19 quarantine. “My staff has been awesome – not one person has complained. They have been absolutely amazing.”
Like almost all other businesses, Original Gravity, located in Milan, found itself having to shut down in mid-March. “We got a sense from what was happening in other states but nothing definitive,” Sancho says. “The shut down hit us by surprise – it hit all at once. It was the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day and I had already bought over 200 pounds of corned beef for the holiday.”
Sancho started cooking the meat and pivoted to a carryout meal system. “We started selling take out and sold out … we had a line into the parking lot. That gave us some good revenue to ride out the next few weeks.”
At first, Sancho and his staff thought that the quarantine would be short. “It looked like a couple of weeks, then a couple of weeks more … and then, before we knew it, it was three months.” Sancho says that during those early days of the shutdown, “I worked more hours per week than I could count” as he strived to figure out how to keep the business going.
Original Gravity kept filling growlers, but in order to lessen the chance of cross-contamination, they required customers to buy a new growler for each fill-up. “I ordered a bunch of new ones just before the growler shortage hit. I starting doing a buy-back program when things got a little safer.” Sancho then found a source for plastic growlers that were BPA-free and recyclable. “Those were a lifesaver,” he says.
As of the publishing of this post, restrictions have loosened in the state of Michigan and the pub is now able to refill a customer’s personal growlers. Additionally, the bar now has a crowler machine, which enables Original Gravity to fill 24 oz cans of anything on tap.
The shutdown also necessitated tinkering with the ways customers could order from their favorite brewpub. Sancho set up his system to allow folks to order online gift cards that could be sent to a friend over email. The new system also made it possible to order food online which enabled curbside or quick indoor pick-up.
While orders remained steady, Sancho still felt the loss of normal business. “I had to cut staff down by half and my fulltime brewer had to go to half time.”
Under the current executive order, restaurants can only allow 50% of the indoor capacity. Original Gravity is erring on the side of caution and has limited indoor seating to only 25%. “We have such a big outdoor space – up to 100 people – so that has been working out well,” Sancho says. He expanded his outdoor licensing to include the west parking lot, which now has picnic tables and seating set up.
For the most part, customers have followed the rules. “These are statewide rules. It’s not us making things up,” he says. “Most people want to follow them and do the right thing.” In order to educate customers on the rules, places that are off-limits are clearly delineated with red tape and the floor is marked with arrows and X’s to allow for social distancing. There are sanitizer stations and extra face masks.
Sancho has rescheduled much of the live music that was originally scheduled for earlier this spring. “We’re having musicians out on the patio Fridays and Saturdays now … to get in most of the people we had to cancel. Upcoming acts include Stormy Chromer, Adam Labeaux, Mercury Salad, The Jazz Bums, and The Devil Elvis. Oktoberfest, with an appearance by the Zehnder’s Cluck Truck, is planned for Friday, September 25th.
All of these pivots and labors of love were done to “keep the ship afloat,” Sancho says and then echoes his earlier praise for his workers.
“Once in a while, a customer does complain about wearing a mask while ordering … I just say ‘look at this incredible staff! They are wearing them all day and keeping us open so you can order your favorite beer.'”
Original Gravity Brewing Company is located at 440 County Street in Milan. Their current hours are 3:00-10:00pm Monday through Saturday. They are closed on Sundays.