Q&A: Beer Barrio, Skytown Beer Company

By Jessica Maurer, posted May 19, 2020
Beer sommelier Hayley Jensen (shown above) and her family, who also own Beer Barrio in downtown Wilmington, opened Skytown Beer Company in July 2018 on New Centre Drive. (File photo)
As part of an ongoing series, the GWBJ interviewed Hayley Jensen, who co-owns Beer Barrio and Skytown Beer Company with her husband, Stephen Durley, and mother, Carol Jensen, about how their businesses have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

GWBJ:  After several weeks of operating under the restrictions imposed by Governor Cooper, what ultimately led to your decision to close both Beer Barrio and Skytown Beer Company temporarily?

Hayley Jensen: "We actually never planned to operate under the restrictions. We simply stayed open to run off our inventory, and minimize our losses. To go only is so limiting, that it really didn’t make sense for us. We also naively thought that we would be looking at a couple weeks of closure, as opposed to the almost two months that it became."

GWBJ: Beer Barrio reopened May 1, and Skytown is set to re-open on May 22. How difficult has it been to get the restaurants back up and running?

Hayley Jensen: "It really hasn’t been difficult, because going to work is what we know how to do, and what we want to do. It also gave us an opportunity to paint, deep clean, and sanitize everything. We’re trying to see the silver lining in this aspect."

GWBJ: Has the majority of your staff returned to work?

Hayley Jensen: "We have rehired approximately 50 percent of our staff so far." 

GWBJ:  How are you keeping your staff and customers safe?

Hayley Jensen: "We repainted, deep cleaned, and sanitized every inch of our restaurants, as well as every piece of equipment. Owner, Carol Jensen made masks for everyone in order to keep staff safe. We stocked up on gloves, and have hand sanitizer stations installed throughout both restaurants so that we can clean our hands throughout the shifts." 

GWBJ:  Financially speaking, how much of an impact has the virus had on the restaurant and brewery? What, if any, types of financial assistance has the company sought?

Hayley Jensen: "This epidemic has truly been catastrophic for our industry. Our sales dropped by 80 percent, which didn’t really justify the labor and operating expense. We had to lay off our staff, which was heart wrenching.

"We lost the beginning of our busy season, including Azalea Fest Weekend, which is our busiest time of the year at Beer Barrio. It’s hard to think about, honestly. However, we did receive a PPP loan and grant from WDI at Beer Barrio. We are really working to fight our way back!"
GWBJ: What changes have you made in terms of your menus or hours of operation?

Hayley Jensen: "We modified our menus by adding family-style options, and took away items that didn’t travel well. We also eliminated items that required a lot of prep, just because our staff is tapered back. We also modified our hours to 11:30 a.m. - 8 p.m. at both restaurants. You lose a lot of late night business when no one is going to concerts, parties, bar-hopping, etc."
GWBJ:   What have you learned from this experience that might help you better prepare for future disasters?

Hayley Jensen: "I don't think I knew that a global pandemic could actually happen in the modern world. We were so caught off guard. We always keep a month of operating costs in reserve at both restaurants, but this was beyond what we imagined."

GWBJ: When we think about what our “new normal” might look like, what changes do you foresee happening within the restaurant industry as a result of COVID-19?

Hayley Jensen: "For the safety of our staff, we will be wearing masks for the foreseeable future. We will keep hand sanitizer stations throughout for staff and customers. Menus and payment protocols will probably change. We will just have to wait and see."

GWBJ: What do you ask of the community and your customers as we phase re-opening of bars and restaurants? 

Hayley Jensen: "Compassion is key. Please be patient as we all adapt to a style of service that we never anticipated. And of course, wash your hands!"

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