The restaurant industry is being crushed at the moment, with the 'will to live' at the forefront of most entrepreneurs mindset. My wife and I were on a spring break after delivering the grandparents their bundles of joy, when the landscape was suddenly encapsulated in a fear factor fog.
The Millwork District, home to our brewery and restaurant, saw its high vibratory glow weakened by diminished foot traffic. The tasty beer and scrumptious food lost its edge; St. Patrick's day was diagnosed with depression and unable to get out of bed.
The city of Dubuque suggested it quarantine itself, before Governor Reynolds put the restrictive measures across all restaurants in Iowa.
My gut instinct said to lay everyone off immediately to stop the financial hemorrhaging. If selling pints of beer in the taproom is 7 Hills Brewing Company's bread and butter, we were stranded with croutons and margarine.
Becoming a boss again
When we opened the taproom in 2017, we had overstaffed employees and overproduced beer. Our footprint size was a huge risk, most naysayers said we would never make it, we were 'too big.'
Dumping stale beer down the drains, and observing a bloated payroll really struck a chord in my spine, forcing me to bow down or boss up. I chose the later. It changed me forever as a human being, husband and father, and overall business entrepreneur.
I have always been optimistic, seeing everyone misfortune as an opportunity in disguise, a hidden lesson per se. We made acute changes that were not well received during those times.
I have often read articles online that said the workers are more important than the company itself. Having been an employee, and never an employer, this logic was persuasive at that point in my life.
But truth be told, without a company, there are no employees. This simple and cold truth empowered us to self-sacrifice and put the company needs before our individual desires.
It reminded me of the old J.F.K. motto. Some of the co-founders struggled with this perspective, and consequently, left the company.
I struggled to pick up the pieces of this puzzle. We nearly failed a few times, but lessons learned, we attracted the right players to develop one of the strongest teams I have ever had the opportunity to lead.
Then Covid-19 showed up without reservations.
Many Business Pivots
As sales plummeted, an unspoken spiritual paralysis started to seep its way into the mind's of our staff.
Call it clairvoyance, I knew this would be more detrimental than the disease itself. If I have learned anything as an Occupational Therapist, it was that people fall victim to learned helplessness when they are not challenged with the just right activity.
Our staff is mostly hyperactive, highly creative,with a deep thirst for adventure. A staple diet of Netlifx and takeout is not medicine, it is poison Boredom is the true original sin.
Knowing that we had stagnant tap lines, bored staff members, and time to kill, I pivoted immediately and stayed open: we turned our on premise tap room into a bulk food store, food and beer delivery business model, created canned craft cocktails to go and for delivery, and created a new catering menu that addresses family style options.
Volunteers to the Rescue
At the end of the day, I am the only one who needs to be at 7 Hills Brewing Company. Before I returned from spring break, our managers held down the brewpub, highly concerned and confused with my decision to lay everyone off.
Luckily, business was so slow that we had time to discuss my rationale. Restaurants have seen an 84% decrease in sales. It doesn't take a mathematician to calculate a restaurant is depleting resources faster than a celebrity junkie. I have been working 90+ hours a week, and without the help of volunteers, we would have closed our doors permanently.
I have always worked hard to take care of my employees and develop them on a personal level. Sometimes it felt like I was too idealistic and naive. The core of the 7 came to our rescue. They all told me in one way or another, that 7 Hills has always been there for them, and when this is all over, they will do whatever it takes to keep this place alive because it is the best place they have ever worked in their lives.
They have no desire to work elsewhere. I am crying right now writing these words. The don't call it blood, sweat, and tears for nothing. I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one. They are too.
Helping Essentail Workers with Beer, of course!
I chose to dump beer into the bellies of our essential workers in the Dubuque community. It saddened me to watch everyone hoard resources because they were driven by fear.
As someone who is driven by love, I went the opposite direction and gave away product. I imagined we were liquidating and going out of business, in an effort to stimulate the 7 Hills economy for cashflow. Merchandise was now 50% off along with craft beer fills to go.
Our kitchen was able to be creative with family style food items to reduce waste. I contracted out a brewer to keep producing brews for the essential workers and customers who were still willing to arrive for take out.
Last Words We Hope Not
In essence, I hope this is not our last blog. The future is uncertain. We made it this far and will continue to fight for every inch until we collapse. Adrenaline tastes disgusting so we wash it away with craft beer and bourbon every day as we continue the battle towards re-opening on May 15th.
There is no blueprint for navigating times like these. No business degree has a lecture based around catastrophes. When you are thrown back into the wild like we have been, relying on your instinct and sense, the ancient art of savagery returns.
Adaptation is crucial for survival, and change is the only universal constant. Pivoting is all I have ever known, so to do so felt natural and graceful. Convincing others to follow my zig zag lead, well, that is a whole other story on salesmanship and persuasive speaking.
I raise my barrel aged coffee cup now to those who wake up, fearless in their pursuit of their passions, and go get what is rightfully theirs. The universe knows. I put my faith and trust in her as we plan for tomorrow and work for today.