About a week ago, I gave my perspective of the crisis as a small business owner. Today, I’m posting some additional thoughts and observations based on the way things have progressed over the last week. I don’t plan to post in regular installments, but feel compelled to tell more about how our story has played out.
When taprooms and restaurants in Texas were closed except for to-go sales, I estimated we’d lose about 3/4 of our revenue. As I mentioned before, Jester King’s business model is based heavily on onsite sales. We’ve joked in the past that we basically throw a beer festival here every weekend. We haven’t invested heavily in production volume or distribution, content to allow onsite sales to be our bread and butter. Thus far, the hit to onsite sales has indeed been severe. We’ve lost about 2/3 of our business, which while catastrophic, could be worse. We’ve seen a fairly steady stream of cars driving up everyday to our curbside pickup. Coincidentally, releasing our beer in cans and crowlers during this time has helped. Cans and crowlers were set to happen anyway. Their timing is just a coincidence. We are curious, as are our peers, to see how to-go sales progress. We’re hoping the initial support isn’t just a wave that dies down. We’re also anxious to see the impact shelter-in-place has on to-go sales. With that said, if the level of support we’re currently seeing holds steady in the weeks ahead, it will go a long way to ensuring our survival. As far as to-go purchases, now is the time to support small, local, and independent businesses like no other. I shop at multi-state and multi-national chains too, but now is not the time. Please buy small, local, and independent!
While help from the public through to-go orders is crucial, it’s also crucial for us and other small businesses to receive help from the banks and government. As of this writing, the only help we have received is that tax-day has been pushed back to July 15th. Otherwise, we have received absolutely zero help. Sales, excise, and franchise taxes are still due to the state government on time. We’ve asked for deferment from our bank and the SBA on our loans. While we’re hopeful, no relief has been given at this time. The SBA deferment, if we get it, allows for no payments for six months, but then enters into a “catch-up phase”, where monthly payments are higher. This is the same pre-crisis policy. Nothing has improved. Our business interruption coverage has been denied, but that’s old news by now.
We have applied for an SBA Disaster Assistance Loan, which has very good terms (3.75% APR, 30-year term, no money down, no payments for a year, $2M max borrowed). But we don’t know if we’ll qualify, how much we can borrow (if any), and how long the process will take. We’ve been told 3-4 weeks, which feels like a long time from right now, but I do understand that’s pretty quick for a loan. We’re hopeful 3-4 weeks doesn’t turn into six to eight. If we qualify for an SBA Disaster Assistance Loan, I’ll be feeling a lot better. With that said, adding more debt to our long-term future is definitely a setback – a setback we’ll of course accept to survive. We’ve also applied to the Texas Restaurant Association grant and plan to apply to Facebook’s grant when it goes live. We’re grateful for opportunities like these.
A major source of envy for me has been my brewery friends in other states who can legally ship and deliver beer. I’m glad they have that right. But we want it too! Being able to ship and deliver temporarily right now would make a major difference. It is frustrating to no end that we are at a major disadvantage relative to our peers in other states at a time like this. Bars with a mixed beverage permit can temporarily deliver in Texas thanks to the Governor. This is great. But breweries and brewpubs can’t! The Texas Craft Brewers Guild has submitted signatures to Governor Abbott requesting a temporary right to ship and deliver beer, but I am not optimistic. I of course hope I’m wrong. Some of our brewpub peers in Texas have chosen to proceed with deliveries regardless of the law, which is something we’ve chosen not to do. But if things get precipitously more desperate and civil disobedience appears the only way to survive, we may find ourselves in the same boat.
I won’t take credit for this final point, because I’ve seen multiple people make it. Restaurants, bars, and breweries have been asked to make a sacrifice for the public good. We have been asked to close our doors to the public to save lives and keep our healthcare system from collapsing. In return for this sacrifice, we must have help! We cannot make this sacrifice without it.
As I’ve mentioned before, there are people out there right now that have it worse than small business owners. There are people who have lost their jobs, people who are sick, and people who have lost their lives. There are a lot of stories that need to be listened to right now. I offer this up as one of them.