by Andrew Garda
Not that long ago, Denise Ford Sawadogo — owner of the Montclair Brewery with her husband Leo Sawadogo — locked herself out of the building when delivering a curbside delivery order to a waiting car.
While it’s the sort of thing which might be annoying to any shop owner, to some extent Ford Sawadogo is happy to be open at all.
On March 30, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy clarified a March 16 edict that allowed breweries in the state to deliver to customer’s homes, as well as allow curbside pickup. Previously, the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control did not allow home delivery by breweries.
“It’s a huge change and effect to [our] business,” Ford Sawadogo said. “Without delivery, I mean probably two-thirds of all sales wouldn’t happen. We’re already down like 80-85 percent already because our tap room is not open. So, already we’re suffering because of the whole shut down, but then without delivery it would have been even worse.”
Even the slight delay hurt though, as the brewery lost a weekend, which is when most of their sales are produced.
That was why, when the state pushed pause on the initial ruling that breweries could home deliver, New Jersey Brewers Association sprang into action, contacting both the governor’s office and NJ ABC.
“Immediately the call went out to see if there was anything that could be done at the administrative level as opposed to the legislative level to temporarily allow for home delivery,” said NJBA Executive Director Alexis Degan. “And thankfully yes, the governor and the ABC put out a special ruling temporarily relaxing the ban on home delivery for breweries.”
Degan said it was a much-needed lifeline to brewers who, like so many businesses, were only just hanging on during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You know, we are so grateful because a lot of our breweries who had been doing home delivery were able to keep on people on their staff,” she said. “[They] were able to get just a little bit of a breath of relief of another income stream, given that all the other options had either closed completely, aka their tasting rooms, or been severely bottlenecked. Being able to direct deliver to homes definitely opened up and new avenue that hasn’t been opened.”
With home delivery and pickup allowed, the Montclair Brewery has been able to continue to keep their doors opened and their staff paid. There have been some hiccups, such as customers entering the establishment’s taproom when they aren’t allowed due to state COVID-19 restrictions.
That led to locking the front door, which in turn led to Ford Sawadogo getting locked out.
The brewery then left the doors unlocked, with a sign on it informing customers they may not enter the building, unlike with grocery stores and pharmacies where someone can come inside, get what they need and go home.
Ford Sawadogo has provided other options for her customer base.
The brewery is open for curbside pickup or delivery from 3 to 7:3 0 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and open from noon to 7:3 0 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
For curbside service, customers can call during business hours or email Montclair Brewery their order at firstname.lastname@example.org. Customers can then pay via the app Arryved (available in both the Google Play and Apple Stores) for a completely touchless payment experience.
Then they can call the store when they arrive or just pull up and the staff will see them through the doors.
Ford Sawadogo said they still service customers who just show up without calling ahead, they just may have to wait, not that anyone has complained.
Delivery has gone through a few changes, she said.
“In the very early stages we told everyone it was email or phone us. Whether you wanted delivery or whether you wanted to pick up—email, phone,” she explained. ”Then maybe about a week or two into it, we were able to get an online store set-up on our website for deliveries. So now all delivery orders should go through our website.”
For those looking to order for delivery, the process is simple. Go to the website, click on the button labeled “Order for Delivery” and place items you are interested in, into the cart. Then check out, and pay with your credit card.
Again, the idea is a touchless service which allows both customers and staff to feel safe.
Degan said brewers like Ford Sawadogo have all experienced some very grateful customers.
“It adds a bit of normalcy to, you know, an un-normal world,” Degan said. “Because our customers have been so supportive of craft beer here in the state in general [and] a lot of them want to continue to have their favorite beer.”
She also pointed out that breweries have high health standards and shifting to a health-crises footing hasn’t been an issue.
“Breweries are very clean, hygienic places, and brewers understand the necessity of that cleanliness and that hygienic atmosphere,” Degan said. “Being able to make that jump to even a further step removed from the customer having to feel like, you know, they have to leave their house and be unsafe, by having the home delivery is so key.”
For Ford Sawadogo and the Montclair Brewery, they are also trying to keep connected to their customers even while social distancing.
“We’re doing some virtual events now,” Ford Sawadogo said. “So we have Wednesday virtual trivia. Fridays we’re having a virtual happy hour, but we’re calling it, like a chill happy hour. All virtual on Zoom.”
The Montclair Brewery knows its customers miss seeing and talking to each other. They want to help bridge the gap and help folks feel a little less separated.
“Where are providing those events so that people who want to feel that connection. Seeing each other and talking with each other virtually is better than nothing.”