Just a few months after being allowed to reopen in Phase 2, some Massachusetts breweries closed their taprooms on Tuesday in response to Gov. Baker’s new restaurant rules, which mandate that alcoholic beverages may only be served at restaurants if accompanied by food prepared on-site.
Distraction Brewing, Exhibit ‘A’ Brewing, Idle Hands Craft Ales, Night Shift Brewing, Turtle Swamp Brewing, and Trillium Brewing are among the businesses that have closed their locations for on-site consumption, citing Baker’s new order.
John Lincecum, co-founder of Turtle Swamp Brewing, told Boston.com that Baker’s order prompted the brewery to shut down its Jamaica Plain patio on Tuesday.
“This really has come as obviously a bit of a surprise to us,” Lincecum said.
Prior to the new rule, Turtle Swamp had purchased sandwiches made in a licensed kitchen off-site, which Lincecum said he thought would work as long as everybody ordered food while they were seated.
“When we ran out, we would stop selling beer until I got another dozen sandwiches,” he said. “It worked really well, to be honest. Unfortunately, the new order requires on-premise, substantial food. And I think everyone’s trying to figure out what that means.”
Lincecum said that while he’s had a positive experience with the city’s Licensing Board, he’s still awaiting their guidance as to which foods served on-site will allow the taproom to operate within the new guidelines.
Lorenda Layne, a partner at Distraction Brewing in Roslindale, is having a similar experience. The brewery announced its temporary closure on Tuesday.
“I kind of flew into a panic,” she said of the new rules. “I’m not really a panicky person, but I was just so incredulous that this was possible and happening.”
Layne immediately started brainstorming with her staff what dishes the brewery could make using a panini grill, and, on Tuesday, submitted a proposal to the Licensing Board to make hot dogs and grilled cheese on the grill. As of Wednesday morning, Layne said she has not yet received approval, but the brewery has already purchased grilling equipment.
“I’m hoping we will either be approved, denied, or told to reapply with guidance by the end of the week, in which case I would be within the return window for that equipment,” she said.
On Friday, Baker announced in a press conference that the state was updating COVID-19 restaurant guidelines to indicate that alcohol can only be served for on-site consumption if “accompanied by food prepared on site.” The Massachusetts safety standards and checklist for restaurants was revised to reflect this new rule, along with the clarification that “‘Restaurant’ means an establishment that provides seated food service that is prepared on-site and under a retail food permit issued by a municipal authority pursuant to 105 CMR 590.000. Potato chips, pretzels, and other similar pre-packaged, shelf-stable foods, or other food prepared off-site do not constitute food ‘prepared on-site.'”
“Bars are closed in Massachusetts,” Baker said. “And bars masquerading as restaurants also need to be closed.”
By Wednesday, both the Licensing Board and Baker’s office did not respond to questions from Boston.com regarding Baker’s new restaurant rules, including which equipment and food items will allow bars, breweries, and restaurants to operate within the new guidelines.
A slew of other breweries that are unable to currently serve food have temporarily shuttered across the state.
“Hey everyone, Governor Baker’s new executive order has thrown us for a bit of a loop with only a few days to shift our business model,” Exhibit ‘A’ shared in an Instagram post. “We tried to scramble to find a food vendor for Wednesday and Thursday so that we can open the beer garden, but unfortunately, we were not able to find one that was also already licensed in the City of Framingham. As a result, we must close the beer garden.”
On Monday, Trillium’s vice president of operations, Ryan Shocklee, told Boston.com that the company was working with its lawyers and the Licensing Board to figure out whether its Fenway location is in compliance with the state’s order. On Tuesday, it announced the Fenway taproom’s temporarily closure.
“As we adapt to new guidelines issued by the state of Massachusetts this past Friday, August 7th, we are pausing outdoor seating and draft service at our Fenway location,” Trillium posted on Instagram, sharing that retail sales of cans and bottles to-go would still be available.
Idle Hands in Malden shared that it had closed but was working on a solution to reopen by Wednesday, while Night Shift announced that it was temporarily closing its Owl’s Nest beer gardens, which had just reopened last weekend.
“The closures are for [Wednesday] only, hopefully,” Matt Eshelman, Night Shift quality manager, shared with Boston.com. “While we are still waiting further clarification, we believe that we are able to meet the new requirements with our food truck as well as partner food trucks who will still be preparing food on site.”
Despite choosing to keep Distraction Brewing’s indoor taproom closed, collecting information for contact tracing, and maintaining strict sanitation protocols, Layne expressed frustration that her brewery is still running up against hurdles. Still, she remains hopeful.
“I have a lot of faith in Massachusetts leadership and Boston leadership,” she said. “I feel like we’ve done a really great job overall under tremendous pressure. Of course, you’re going to have some missteps or misspeak, or point A isn’t going to connect to point B in your head until somebody points it out to you, but that’s why we all work together on this. If we all work together to refine [the rules] and continue to make them better with the goal of getting past this pandemic — if we can just keep that in mind, I think we’ll be OK.”