Riot Brewing Co., by the very nature of its name, is supposed to be all about having fun.
The last couple of years have been anything but for Aly Tomlin and Ralf Rosenke, the owners of the Chemainus brewery, as they overcame financial struggles only to be hit by the untimely COVID-19 blow just as things were looking up. Previous to that, it was the wind storm of December 2018 that cut power in the Chemainus area for several days that left the brewery reeling.
“We can’t get a break,” sighed Tomlin.
The COVID crisis hit where it hurt the most. “We took a huge, huge blow from closing the lounge,” said Tomlin.
Friday, March 13 had just turned out to be a lucky day for Riot, but it all spiralled downward quickly by March 17.
In four short days, Riot went from “our busiest night ever to Tuesday, we’re shut,” Tomlin noted.
They had just hired a sales rep, who was on the road in mid-January to further enhance the scope of their products.
“By mid-March, he was laid off,” Tomlin sighed.
In fact, all the other Riot staff members except one were laid off.
“I maintained sales as best as I could at home,” noted Tomlin.
Monday, June 1 marked another new beginning for the Riot squad. Having been limited to home deliveries for several weeks, the second phase of provincial reopenings has the lounge back in operation with the appropriate social distancing measures taken.
Tomlin and Rosenke couldn’t get plexiglass because it’s been in such high demand for COVID recovery and it’s also expensive, but barriers are in place between tables to keep patrons six feet apart.
“We can move them,” said Tomlin. “If you want a seat for two, we can put little barriers around you.”
The bar is off limits for sitting or customers risk getting a yellow or red card soccer-style from Rosenke for unbecoming behaviour.
“We’re all learning, right,” said Rosenke. “It’s different, seeing people’s comfort levels.”
The lounge is now open seven days a week again, with later hours from noon to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 7 p.m. on Sundays and 2 to 9 p.m. Thursdays. Hours remain at 2 to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday.
Riot intends to concentrate on stocking its product in liquor stores throughout the region, with restaurants undergoing such drastic reductions in capacity.
The reopening won’t allow Riot to bring back the highly-popular entertainment nights just yet, but they’re hoping that can happen sooner rather than later. “Everything that was so fun and we loved is kind of gone,” said Tomlin.
But they’re optimistic about the reopening to get customers through the door again. Their saving grace could come from an extended patio option. The space is already there and if their application can be fast-tracked as the provincial government has promised, the available seating outside will be far greater – perfect for the time of the year.
Home deliveries will also continue. “The home deliveries give a good option for people who aren’t comfortable,” said Rosenke.
Financial assistance for businesses during the COVID crisis has not benefited Riot. Businesses with significant drops in revenue received subsidies, but Riot went down 12 per cent from bankruptcy.
“We’re 12 per cent worse than we were when we were insolvent,” noted Tomlin.
“We’re not getting the subsidies, we’re not getting the government help.”
Trials and tribulations are nothing new for Tomlin and Rosenke during their Riot Brewing experiences and they don’t give up easily. They’re making the most of the current situation, but not about to dismiss COVID as being conquered just yet.
“We’re bracing for a second wave and who knows what that will bring,” pondered Rosenke.