When New York officials ordered a widespread shutdown of bars and restaurants in March to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, businesses all over the state were forced to halt their day-to-day operations.
“We were a little bit ahead of the curve when it came to not allowing customers on premise,” says Brendan Carroll, co-owner of Beer Noggin, a beer bar and bottle shop with two locations in Westchester County. It closed its doors on March 24. “We are such a small space we wanted to be a little cognizant of the fact people might not have felt comfortable coming into the space and being so close”
Before Covid-19, you would be hard pressed to find an open seat at the outpost in Bronxville, some 20 miles north of New York City. It’s been a community staple for five years. On any given night, you could expect the small space to be packed, with additional customers trickling in to buy cans to go.
Beer Noggin’s second location in Mount Kisco, New York, was only open for a few months before the mandated shut-down. It hosted trivia nights and offered takeaway beers.
But after Covid-19 hit “we locked the doors and it was all online orders and phone-in orders,” says Carroll.
“It was a surreal moment,” says Rob Piersall, a bartender at Beer Noggin for a little over a year. He’s worked at both locations.
Having an online store was new territory for Beer Noggin. But the virtual shop allowed customers to order cans for pick-up, request curbside delivery, or even have beer delivered to their homes through Postmates.
At the Mount Kisco location, a few customers were allowed in the bar/shop at a time so employees could help them select cans to take home.
According to Carroll, the switch from in-store to online went rather seamlessly. And the online orders were able to help carry the shops through the spring.
When asked if they plan to keep their online store even after the regulations are lifted Carroll replied “we’re in an on-demand culture and society. So, if we can facilitate that with relatively minimal effort and it’s mutually beneficial to [customers] and to us a company, absolutely.”
But implementing the digital retail program was not without some challenges.
In Mount Kisco, there weren’t enough Postmates drivers to keep up with deliveries, so Doug Cedrone, Beer Noggin’s co-owner, delivered orders himself on his way home at the end of the day.
Along with technical glitches, one of the larger struggles was not being able to interact with customers.
“That was a big thing being accessible by the customer to either give them a recommendation or just generally talk about beer and what we were excited about or [to] see what customers were interested in. So, we lost a little bit of that knowledge mining,” Carroll says.
“What makes my job enjoyable is getting to talk to people… So, not having that was really weird and it took a lot of getting used to,” says Piersall.
Along with the online orders, customers can stop in for a brew, as both locations are operating at 50% capacity indoors with a few additional tables outside.
“I’m glad that I have people in there now. It’s been nice to have some of our regular customers come back in and be able to talk to them again. It definitely feels like a little bit more normal again,” says Piersall.
There are signs throughout both locations so customers know where to sit or stand in order to stay a safe distance apart. There are also extra masks on hand, in case anyone forgets theirs.
Piersall hopes Beer Noggin can maintain some of its pre-pandemic feeling. “I do miss those days where it’d be a Friday or Saturday night and the place was packed,” he remembers. “I feel like you could walk into Beer Noggin alone, and you could walk out of there with a friend or two after a couple drinks. I think that happens a little bit now. But I’m hoping that sooner rather than later we get back to that and have people in there again like we used to.”
Wine Enthusiast is spotlighting the bars, bottle shops and individuals affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and what they’re doing to weather the crisis. Find more at Business of Bars.