Kodiak Island Brewery plans to reopen “any day, now,” says owner

Until the coronavirus pandemic, the Kodiak Island Brewery was a lively local hangout.
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Until the coronavirus pandemic struck, the Kodiak Island Brewery was a thriving local business, but sales crashed after the brewery closed its tasting room in March. Ben Millstein hopes he can turn that around when he reopens his brewery,

For the last four months, his only customers have been those who drive up to a small sliding glass window at the side of the business, customers like Tom Crimmins, who buys a malt beer called “Wingnut” in cans.

Tom Crimmins at Kodiak Island Brewery take out window.
Tom Crimmins orders a “Wingnut” malt, one of thirteen craft beers made at the Kodiak Island Brewery.

“It’s kind of a heavier amber, almost a red beer. And that’s kind of my favorite,” said Crimmins.

And while he appreciates the take out service, Crimmins says he’s looking forward to a time when he can go inside and enjoy people’s company — yet at the same time, he’s glad Millstein has exercised caution in reopening.

“I don’t think anybody should sacrifice public safety to make a buck,” Crimmins said.

Inside the brewery, you’ll find Millstein at work trying to figure out his next move.

“Any day now, we’re hoping to reopen. Any day now,” Millstein said, as he filled a glass with Snowshoe Pale from the tap, one of 13 craft beers he makes in the big metal tanks in the back of his business. What’s on tap is what sells the best, but open container laws prevent sales at the drive-up window.

Ben Millstein plans on reopening his Kodiak Island Brewery tasting room at a third of capacity.

In contrast, Millstein has had very little take out business. Beer sold in cans, pigs and growlers have just not had the appeal of beer on tap. He estimates he’s doing 10-15 percent of the business he had when his tasting room was packed with patrons. 

During the closure, Millstein gave the floor a fresh coating of bright red paint and began work on a deck outside.The heavy, wooden church benches and funky fishing décor are still there. The sunlight streams in. The room seems oddly peaceful given the turmoil his business has gone through.

A new outdoor deck is under construction at the Kodiak Island Brewery.

Although bars in Kodiak re-opened months ago, Millstein continued to keep the indoor side of his business closed. He said he and his staff of five weren’t comfortable reopening.

In the interim, he’s given a lot of thought about how he might reopen safely, but still struggles with how best to do that. After all, the success of his business was based on bringing people together, not to distance them from one another. 

“It was kind of like a town clubhouse atmosphere, where people can come with friends, or come by themselves, and just meet people who are hanging out,” Millstein said. “A lot of people used this as an informal office space.”

But that was then. And this is now.

“I’ve tried to be in a constant brainstorm mode,” Millstein said. “What can we do differently that would be more appropriate now in this business situation?”

Millstein says he’s sat at this desk many hours pondering how best to open with no easy answers.

For starters, Millstein says he will have a separate entrance and exit to reduce cross traffic. There will also be plenty of sanitizing wipes for customers and markers on the floor to remind them to keep their distance from each other. Millstein will also limit customers to one-third capacity, very different from before, when the brewery regularly drew standing room only crowds.

Kodiak Island Brewery makes 13 varieties of beer on its premises.

 

 

 

 

 

Millstein says he has fewer than a dozen drive-through customers a day, not nearly enough to break even. He says he used some federal Paycheck Protection Program funds to stay afloat – and even now isn’t sure reopening his tasting room under the new constraints will put his business back in the black.

“It’s a bit hard to predict how it will evolve,” Millstein said. “I don’t see the environment of the pandemic changing drastically any time soon, except that it could get a lot worse in Kodiak, which we all hope we can avoid.”

Four of five staffers will return to be able to go back to work when the brewery reopens. One is having a baby. All of his staffers will wear masks, but Millstein doesn’t think it’s practical to ask his customers to wear them, because they would have to take them on and off to drink their beer.

Initially, the brewery will be open Monday through Saturday with limited hours.  Initially, the tasting room will open at 3:00 p.m. and close at 8:00 p.m. And if that goes well, he’ll stay open until 10:00 p.m.

Millstein says his customers should expect changes, because some adjustments will be needed, once his business, and his taps, start to flow again.

 

 

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