By Mckenzie Moore
Following the closure of dine-in restaurants and bars due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are now starting to reopen their doors. Paonia United Brewing Company is welcoming patrons back to its beer garden, complete with live music.
The business had closed its doors on March 16, serving only to-go orders. After restrictions on restaurants and bars were loosened, staff met to discuss the current guidance and how to both safely and effectively reopen on June 7.
“We wanted to make sure we were doing it right,” said co-owner and general manager Mike DeJager. “We took the guidance from Delta County and the state of Colorado, and knowing our business is a little unique, decided to take on a model that made the most sense for us.”
Currently, customers can order from the counter, and the business is serving pitchers of beer for parties of two or more so that customers won’t have to make multiple trips to the counter. There is no seating at the bar to limit congregation of people at the counter, and tables are spaced apart from each other.
Masks are required whenever people are not seated at their table (such as going up to the counter to order). In addition, hand sanitizer is available throughout the venue, contactless payment methods are offered and all surfaces are sanitized frequently.
“This is a new experience for us and our customers, and everybody is still learning how to cope with and get along with the new rules and regulations,” DeJager said. “With everybody crossing paths so much, we want to keep the community as safe as possible.”
The safety measures were a necessary adjustment to open back up again after a shutdown that crippled many local businesses. Paonia United Brewing saw an approximately 80% drop in sales compared to the year before, but DeJager said the response from the community was what got the business through.
“The only reason is through the generosity of our community and the overwhelming support we’ve gotten,” DeJager said. “There’s some really fantastic folks that kept coming in for to-go beer and asking how they could help, and we were able to power through.”
Friday nights are especially prominent at Paonia United Brewing, as live music and guest food vendors from around the community are present during those evenings. Through the entire reopening process, DeJager said the response from the community has continued to be overwhelmingly positive. He emphasized that David Connolly and Josh Livaudais, who offered to play for tips when live music first returned to the venue, created a “magical” atmosphere for everyone in addition to supporting the business.
“It almost seemed like it was cathartic for [the musicians] to have the experience to play for a live audience, and you could really feel the energy from the audience. ...We’ve had some good social media feedback confirming for us that we took the extra steps and it’s important to them, and it’s been very heartwarming,” DeJager said. “We have been having people in the beer garden getting to see their neighbors again, enjoying some live music, a nice summer evening with a cold beer — I don’t think anything could beat that.”
The live music and guest food vendors will continue throughout the season, with musicians booked through September. To celebrate both the Fourth of July and Paonia Cherry Days, Paonia United Brewing will be welcoming the Bell Creek Band on July 3 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
DeJager encourages the community to come out and not only support local business and musicians, but return to a traditional summer experience in a safe way.
“By being respectful of the space we’re in, what we’re doing is showing everybody that you can have both. You can feel safe and take measures to protect yourself and your neighbors, and still go out and enjoy yourself, have a beer and listen to live music,” DeJager said. “We recognize that we want to keep our community safe and still be that place where our community can go and enjoy each other’s company.”