Steel & Oak Brewing Co. is hoping to put its expansion plan into action in October.
On May 31, city council supported the New West-based craft brewery’s application for a zoning bylaw text amendment that allows the craft brewery to increase the number of people allowed in its lounge from 50 to 100. In addition reconfiguring the interior of its space at 1319 Third Ave., Steel & Oak is also making its outdoor patio permanent.
Jorden Foss, co-owner of Steel & Oak, said the project can’t get underway until it’s approved by the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch. He noted that those applications are generally approved if they are endorsed by city council.
“Whether we have approval tomorrow or whether we have approval in a couple of months from now, we are going to hold off on any work, and thus getting the extra occupancy, until October-ish,” he told the Record. “We are generally slow in October.”
While the work is underway, Steel & Oak may have to close its tasting room for a couple of weeks.
“We have to add another washroom. We are going to be removing part of our cold room to make room for the extra tasting room space,” Foss explained. “In an ideal scenario, we wouldn’t shut down.”
Foss said it may be easier to “rip the Band-Aid off so we can get it done quick” and temporarily close the tasting room, but he’s considering all options. If possible, he’d like to find a solution that allows the brewery’s employees to keep working.
“Maybe it’s a to-go counter or something like that,” he said. “I will exhaust all my options just to make sure people can get a beer from us while construction is happening.”
In a letter to council as part of the application, James Garbutt, co-owner of Steel & Oak, said the brewery plans to increase the size of its tasting room to provide more inside seating, space for social distancing and an additional bathroom. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said Steel & Oak had lost 40% of its revenue due to restaurant and bar closures, and recognized the need to shift how it sells its products.
Prior to the pandemic, Foss said Steel & Oak did a brisk business selling kegs to restaurants and bars, but that has basically dried up and isn’t reopening at the rate it had hoped.
“In order to try and keep everybody employed, especially on the manufacturing side, we really need to shift how we sell beer,” Foss said. “For us, during this pandemic, it has just reiterated how important New Westminster is to us and how much they support us, and that’s who we need to be making more beer for and that’s who we need to be supporting, because they support us.”
In response to the pandemic, Steel & Oak built a temporary outdoor patio on Third Avenue – and it’s making that a permanent addition to the business. It’s also adding a new temporary patio on the Levi Street side of the brewery.
Despite stringent COVID polices, cleaning and physical distancing implemented at Steel & Oak, Foss said many people are still more comfortable with outdoor seating. Come fall, when the weather cools off and many people have had their second vaccinations, he suspects folks will be ready to head indoors – and he can’t wait.
“I love the patio, but when it’s pouring outside and there’s music going on inside Steel & Oak, and it’s busy and it’s got a bustle, it feels great,” he said. “It feels like an extension of your living room with all your friends over. I am looking forward to getting back to that. Right now, outside is definitely where it’s at.”