COVID and Craft Beer — How One Local Brewery is Making the Best of Things

A. Porter, Staff Writer

This week, HawkEye Media sat down with Adam Cole, co-owner of Newfangled Brew Works in Harrisburg. We talked about how the pandemic has affected the brewery and the steps to keep patrons safe.

Q: Now that we are eight months into the pandemic, what have you found to be the most challenging issue Newfangled has faced? In what ways has the brewery adapted?

A: The most challenging thing is getting customers back. The government and news media at every level has executed an impressive ad campaign scaring people into their homes and isolation. With a business plan built around selling beer made on the property directly across the bar, the situation since March has been challenging. We’ve adapted by buying 15 picnic tables during the “red phase” of to-go only service, which we were 100% closed for until May. The additional outdoor seating tripled our outdoor service capacity.

Q: How has the phased reopening gone? How are Newfangled regulars handling everything?

A: The phased reopening was a dumpster fire of illogical sand shifting policymaking. The nature of the state’s executive administration removed any ability to plan. One week they’d say, “we’re not planning any new restrictions,” then the week after, they’d announce new restrictions. Forecasting for hiring and brewing was a nightmare, and I didn’t want to spend valuable cash flow on inventory that would just sit and die in the cooler. All this was also very frustrating due to the fact that the administration would not disclose the data sources from which they were basing their decisions. Gov. Wolf did not make it a two-way street of discourse to find a way to keep people safe; instead, he dictated orders without the Legislature under the liberal use of emergency declaration powers. An emergency doesn’t last 6-9 months.

Q: Do you plan to adopt any of the changes after the pandemic?

A: Coming out of the initial shutdown of March-May, we opted to migrate toward a 100% table service model. Since day one of opening we were order at bar, and it was a customer service disaster. That model was an issue operating in a post-COVID restaurant world. When the restrictions eventually peel back, we plan on keeping with table service as it has allowed us to get back to near pre-COVID revenue numbers despite having nearly half the people in the building.

Newfangled Brew Works
Lo Ducote of Lo Glo Studios

Q: What kind of positives have come out of this past year?

A: The March-May shutdown forced us to really look at the business and find ways to save money, as well as new ways to more efficiently sell to our patrons. The switch to table service removed the need for customers to get their own beer and beg for service. Now the service comes to them at the table. It’s allowed us to more effectively flip tables, get drinks out, and sell food. Previous to COVID, it was a bit of a mess from a service perspective.

Q: It was great to see that you can schedule live music again; what safety precautions are in place for customers wanting to come and resume some semblance of normalcy?

A: The band is on its own stage with no tables too close. We have a lot of space and have the tables all spaced comfortably for a safe experience here. 

Q: What should the Harrisburg community know about Newfangled? Why should they come out and try this local brewery?

A: We have a wide range of beer here and the best barbecue in the region. We make classic beers like our El Patio Pilsner that would make you think you’re drinking in Czechia, but we also do the trendier fruited sour beers like a peach kettle sour. We have something for everyone with wine from Waltz Vineyards, ciders from Big Hill Ciderworks, spirits from Hidden Still as well as Midstate.

Q: Is there anything else you want to let everyone know?

A: Be patient with servers and restaurant staff when you go out. This is a rocky time for all restaurant and hospitality-related businesses. We have to push people in certain seating areas and might have to provide a less than pleasurable experience sometimes. We’re trying our best to be “normal,” but this situation has made life complicated for restaurants, that’s for sure.

Newfangled is located at 8001 Union Station Blvd. Harrisburg, PA 17111.

Thanks to Adam for his time. If you stop by, be sure to mention you read about NewFangled on The HawkEye!