US wineries, cooking schools, distilleries, and farm stays creatively incorporate social distancing measures in their operations during the pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has proven unfortunate to a number of industries, of which the food-and-beverage and travel industries have particularly been hit hard due to the worldwide lockdown and halt on operations. American businesses that generally cater to tourists and travelers are facing similar problems with additional challenges brought in by changed travel rules across state lines and activities where it is difficult to maintain physical distancing at all times.
Starting May 23, wineries had received permission to resume operations provided that social distancing rules were followed— even while serving food— and groups only limited to six people. Flowers Vineyard in Sonoma County, California is currently providing an exclusive “touchless” experience to its customers. Since reopening on June 12, the winery has been catering to only advance reservations where Visitors will be guided to their outdoor seating in the patio where each table will have a bottle of wine and an on-demand ice bucket coupled with food pairings from their restaurant partners, informed general manager, Stephanie Peachey. Starting in July, the Flowers team will shift gears to offer a more traditional wine tasting experience wherein a flight of three wines would be poured to the customers by an employee. However, self-service will also be an option for customers who would want to remain a strict physical distance. “We’re trying to figure out how we can provide a low-contact experience that’s still meaningful,” said Peachey.
For winemaker and owner, Bertony Faustin, of Abbey Creek Vineyard in North Plains, Oregon, the winery’s tasting room, The Crick, was never a place of traditional wine tasting. “The Crick has always been a community space where people connect with each other,” said Faustin. “We’re about hip-hop, wine, and chill, in that order.” He added that he hopes to do continue doing the same but with fewer people. The Crick’s outdoor patio is offering seating to reservations-only on Saturdays and Sundays, for about twenty-five people with a thirty-minute window between reservations, allowing the surfaces to be wiped down and sanitized.
For distilleries, tours are proving to be a challenge due to the up-close and personal experience contradicting the safety of employees, said president Eric Gregory, of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. While some large distilleries like Angel’s Envy plan on reducing their tour sizes, others have entirely suspending tours for the time being.
“The fear is that someone brings the virus into the production area on a tour, and our staff has to go into quarantine,” said Jay Erisman, co-founder of New Riff Distilling which resumed tours in the second week of June on those days when the production team would not be present in the distillery. Along with mandatory self-administered employee screenings, New Riff has rearranged its bottling line to ensure the required physical distance between workers, masked employees in the gift shop, and cashless payments. Disposable cups for tastings are to soon to be deployed as well.
Du Nord Craft Spirits, a micro-distillery producing vodka, gin, and whiskey in South Minneapolis has transitioned to hand sanitizer production. Being the first black-owned distillery in the US, owners Chris Montana and Shanelle Montana were supposed to reopen during the time when mass protests for The Justice For George Floyd began initially breaking out in the neighborhood. “We are very involved in the South Minneapolis community and we wanted to play our part,” said Shanelle Montana. “We were handing out hand sanitizer and water to the crowd.”
Offering cooking classes, events, and catering services in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, BLVD Kitchen had suffered an immediate impact due to the lockdown orders in wake of the coronavirus crisis. “Pretty much all of our lines of business disappeared overnight,” shared proprietor, Sharon Graves. “Quarantine Cuisine” was one of their initial efforts to target their primary customer base of locals in the neighborhood, however, their online cooking classes were able to reach people in the Midwest, New York, and San Francisco, said Graves. While the city of Los Angeles is edging towards reopening, Graves is not too big on in-person cooking just yet— for now, her plan constitutes “converting part of the kitchen into a studio for online learning”. “It’s not quite the same as being here, but there is something magical about cooking together online”, she added.
However, for some business owners, fragmented reopening isn’t worthwhile. “I’m not interested in just having four or five people on a tour, or trying to resume business until it’s safe,” said Lynn Jaynes, founder of Tastebud Tours. “I’m going to be on the conservative side,” he added. According to Tiffany Jaynes Black, director of sales and marketing, the company will only likely resume business in August or September.
For farm-stays, the only approach is to rely on the core business – “Farming is always risky,” says Scottie Jones, owner of Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, Oregon. With the hospitality business crashed, the farming sector has started operations to fulfill the demand for goods. While Leaping Lamb’s initiatives (such as locally delivered lamb boxes) were a hit, and secured future reservations for summer and fall, they lost about $30,000 in business due to the lockdown.
A survey conducted by the U.S. Farm Stay Association – of which Jones is the founder and executive director – observed that 60% of businesses had not picked up reservations since lockdown restrictions began lifting. By her speculation, that farm-stay businesses, that are currently suffering, are the larger ranches that attract out-of-town and International clientele. On the other hand, Jones also began hosting guests, albeit with new functionalities in place, during mid-May – she accommodated guests in both her cottage and farmhouse simultaneously; revoked the cancellation policy, and still let her guests help with chores, all the while maintaining social distancing protocols. “But it’s certainly different,” she said. “My business tends to be more around hugs, walking close, holding hands with the kids. We’re leaving our guests alone more.”
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