Front Street Brewery closes for renovations and training, continues to pay staff

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WILMINGTON – On New Years Eve, Ellie Craig was prepping the Front Street Brewery for its final run in 2021.

“We have a very limited menu,” the sales and public relations manager explained on Friday.

At 4 p.m. on New Years Day, the brewery closed for the next 30 days. The goal, Craig said, was to have few products left as the restaurant closes to the public to modernize the brewery and accommodate staff training.

“Typically, we close our doors every year for at least three or four days to do renovations and repairs – touch up paint, stain,” Craig said. “But we’re doing a pretty big overhaul.”

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Once February rolls around, the general public will see the same Front Street, only with new tile in the bathrooms and behind the bar, hardwood floors and upholstered seating, a fresh coat of interior paint and an updated facade. up to date. There will also be less obvious fixes, such as corrected plumbing and loose wires secured.

“We’re just reinvesting in our infrastructure because this building dates back to 1865,” Craig said.

Front Street received a facade grant from Wilmington Downtown Inc. in November, which awarded five grants of $ 2,500 to downtown businesses to keep their property’s aesthetics up to date.

“When Hurricane Florence emerged as a Category Four hurricane, we had to put up signs on the front of the building very quickly,” Craig said. “We’ve been trying to fix and stain and fix everything, get back to work after being shut down for a week – but now we’re going to take it apart and sand and fix it. “

Although the business is closed to diners, Front Street pays its 60 employees during this time. He received just over a million dollars from Small Business Administration Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which awarded approximately 130 grants to restaurants in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties in August.

Restaurants that applied for the grant have received funding equal to the loss of revenue due to the pandemic and will not have to reimburse it as long as the money is spent by March 11, 2023 for qualifying uses (salary costs , mortgage obligations, rent, debt service, utility payments, maintenance expenses, construction of outdoor seating, business supplies, supplier costs and company operating expenses ). The FSB will tap into the million dollars, confirmed Craig, but will not use “anywhere near that.”

“Those funds that are not used will be reinvested in the pool of money that can be redistributed throughout the community and to the federal government, so that they can use them in other ways,” she said.

It has been a difficult year in the restaurant industry, with employers experiencing labor and food shortages, as well as rising prices for products and commodities. Craig credits the success of Wilmington’s first brewery – which opened in 1995 – to a dedicated team who worked together and stood up when needed.

“And they deserve some free time,” she said.

However, the FSB is still paying its staff while it is closed this month. The operation took on average the last quarter of the year to result in the figure of the pay of each employee in January. Craig said staff will need to come in a few days to help with deep cleaning and moving equipment, among a few other tasks as needed.

“But we are really investing in our people with this closure,” she repeated.

The brewery is using the time to host a multi-level training process, especially to deal with changes in standard operating procedures and policies due to Covid. Craig said the goal is to get back to the basics of Southern hospitality and change the tone early in the customer experience – the moment someone walks over to the hostess booth.

“People changed the way they interact with others – their general behavior – during Covid,” Craig said.

A convenience already added in June to make up for the longer wait times was the opening of the newly renovated third-floor faucet room – formerly an event space – instead of having customers rushing down a small hallway to inside.

“So instead of saying, ‘Sorry you have to wait outside or take a walk,’ we have this other experience that we can present to our guests,” Craig said, “where they can enjoy a little menu of entrees and a beer while having to wait for a table.

While staff have been updated on the fly as changes are made, Craig said they use restaurant downtime to retrain and make sure “everyone is on the same page. wavelength ”from top to bottom. In addition, FSB is already counting on new team members for the coming season.

“So the people who come in mid-January to start this training process will be ready to start the busy summer season with us,” she added. “And frankly, we have one of the best restaurant workers in Wilmington right now – these people really care about this place, and the culture and community we’ve built here at. Front Street. “

The customer experience training will begin with John Formica – better known as “Ex-Disney Guy”, a leading authority in the tourism, hospitality and service industries – who will host a seminar on a day. Former FSB employee Lauren Burke, who worked at the restaurant for six years but is now a life coach, will come to speak about work-life balance, and how one feeds into one. in the other.

“She understands our culture and our community, what it’s like to work on Front Street, and she will talk to our staff about how to apply things to your daily life and daily routine to set you up for success. in this industry, ”Craig said.

Master Brewer Christopher McGarvey will host a session on craft beer education, and FSB’s management team and whiskey ambassadors will showcase its vast, award-winning selection, boasting over 450 whiskeys, bourbons and scotches.

“We have several of our senior staff currently studying for their Stave & Thief Whiskey Steward Certification course,” added Craig.

The Front Street Brewery will be refreshed and ready to reopen on February 1.


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