COVID: A View From the Frontlines (Part 1)

By Timothy Wilson

“The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.” – Robert Burns

COVID was (and still is) devastating to all of us. This is not a new statement, but it’s an impactful one. Everyone went through some sort of hardship this past year. Was it only a year?  Whether personal concerns, business, financial stress, or in many cases all the above. I was fired one day and re-hired the next. But if you ask my boss, she would deny that it ever happened. Memories kind of faded and blurred together in the beginning.

We at Caboose were/are not immune to the impact and we have had to pivot on so many different fronts just to get a taste of past year’s gains. At times it felt like 1 step forward and 20 steps back, only to take a huge leap forward a few days later. Regulations shifted on a regular basis, and the unknowns around the corner made planning a nightmare.

I personally must thank all the people that work at Caboose. They went through so much and gave so much to keep the business afloat. Just keeping the beer flowing was no small feat. Our brew team was reduced from a team of 5 to a solo act, dutifully standing watch over our precious ales and lagers. At first that’s all we could do, watch. There were no supplies coming. No new beer could be made. No canning could happen. Slowly that changed and we were able to bring in supplies and people to get back to what we do best. I also have to say this with a caveat. We got back to brewing and production but we were only operating at 50% of our capacity.

Luckily, our brewers and support team are no dummies. We did what everyone had to do, pivot and innovate. We went all-in on canning and to-go approvals, even providing delivery services. Subscriptions were created so that customers could invest in Caboose and reap the rewards as we got back on our feet. The barrel club spawned from this and that has been a great success for us and the community.

We also took the time to decide what being a part of the community really means. Using every resource and collaboration we could, we were able to help relieve some of the stressors our community was going through. We set up deliveries of meals to INOVA staff, groceries were donated to food insecure families, and we made sure our staff got all the assistance they deserved. The outcry of support and thanks from all the people we were able to help is what made all the long days and sleepless nights worth it.

From an operations standpoint this was the perfect storm. We had to create new standards, work with new regulations, and do it all with the smallest margin for error. Sure, help came, albeit slowly, in the form of pandemic assistance—but that too was only a band-aid on a trauma wound. We were already bleeding out from capacity restraints, supply limitations, and government mandates. There just wasn’t really a way to logistically plan for what was coming. There would have to be multiple plans discussed so we could implement whatever new regulations were coming that week. It was pure controlled chaos at its best.

Oddly enough we did have one weapon that allowed us to quickly adapt to the changes. We already had a touchless ordering system in place so we were able to quickly adjust its capability and get right to offering customers products. While this system helped immensely during limited operations, we now find ourselves having to pivot again. 

We now find ourselves having to figure out the best way to service guests with the system we have set up. It’s a constant learning lesson, but ultimately, we will get back to what we do best. Great Beer, Great Service, and Great Friends.

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