With new statewide COVID-19 precautions in place and winter weather settling in, restaurants, bars and breweries in the Bethlehem area and across the state are forced to adapt and pivot in order to stay in business.
Following Gov. Tom Wolf’s recent order temporarily shutting down indoor dining amid rising case numbers and his September mandate that banned the sale of alcohol after 11 p.m., many establishments had to face difficult choices on how to best serve their customers.
Sam Masotto, owner of Bonn Place Brewing Company on Taylor Street in Bethlehem, has had to make quick changes to follow the rules and guidelines issued. Bonn is not only a brewery, but a manufacturer as well. A major advantage of being a manufacturer is that they benefit from certain protections that not all breweries have, Masotto said.
“One of the biggest advantages from the jump is that we were deemed essential as a manufacturer of fermented malt beverages in … Pennsylvania,” Masotto said.
Other bars and restaurants did not have the same privilege. Masotto said. This benefit allowed Bonn to continue distributing throughout COVID-19, packaging their beer and serving it to-go. Bonn has a vehicle and all of the licensing and insurance to deliver beer, he said.
Back when they originally shut down for the first time in March, Bonn decided to do beer to-go until May, when they were allowed to have outdoor seating. The brewery felt they could comply with the outdoor seating mandate safely, especially with the equipment that they had.
But with the recent weather changing, they did not feel like they could continue to serve people effectively and keep them comfortable.
Masotto said about three weeks ago, Bonn made the decision once COVID-19 cases started spiking, it would be best to transition back to a to-go platform for at least two weeks after Thanksgiving.
“Most recently, we’ve changed our hours again, and it’s a combination of having enough work for our staff but also being as accommodating as possible,” he said.
Also dealing with similar issues is Charles Patrick, owner of Molly’s Irish Grille & Sports Pub located on East Fourth Street.
Patrick said Molly’s is still open for now and is complying with the mandates issued by the state, including six feet social distancing and sanitation.
“We’ve done everything that we can do on our end,” Patrick said. “We have put in hand sanitizing stations throughout the pub, bathrooms, walls, everywhere.”
Patrick said he plans to keep Molly’s open unless Wolf implements a statewide shutdown or requires take-out only.
He said with no further funding available from the federal government right now, they are just trying to survive.
“A shutdown may happen sooner than later with the increase in numbers, but we have to make money in order to stay alive,” Patrick said.
He said not enough people are going out because of the colder weather. Even though they have outdoor seating with heaters, very few customers are coming to sit outside in December, Patrick said.
Southside 313 Bar & Grille on East Third Street is also doing its best to make it through the winter.
Abby Cech, a bartender at 313, said they have worked out an arrangement for customers to minimize the amount of contact and remain distanced.
“We have some barriers between tables and masks on at all times except for when sitting down at the tables,” Cech said, speaking before Wolf placed another temporary ban on indoor dining through Jan. 4, 2021.
They also have a scan-menu option where customers can view the menu digitally on their cell phones.
All three establishments have seen a decrease in Lehigh students coming in, as many students went home for winter break early due to the rise in COVID-19 cases before Thanksgiving.