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Brewing Through a Pandemic

I’ve worked out my best explanation for why 2020 was the absolute longest year on record, while the announcement of the first lockdown feels like it was just yesterday. As I see it, there’s a spectrum, where if we pinpoint a day, or event the easier it is to express a kind of time-flies sentiment. The other end of that spectrum would be looking at more general periods, or even the pandemic at large, which is a blackhole.

March 16, 2020 effectively marked the beginning of this longest year, but is so clearly remembered that it could have been yesterday. Our normal packaging routine, where canning sometimes feels like a background activity to unfocused sports banter, was stifled as we all took to our phones to gather whatever information we could on lockdown measures. With a list of questions growing quickly, one was prioritized above the rest: are we open tomorrow?

We’re now ten months removed from that day. Ten months of now well documented confusion, turmoil, and devastation for our industry. But, this isn’t the focus of this post. Not directly, at least. It would be disingenuous, though, to highlight some of the positives of our year without a hearty disclaimer. Every adaptation we’ve made is still far from preferred, and even further from perfect. Eastbound’s heart is 700 Queen St E. It’s the place where we gather around great food and beer to connect about, and celebrate, all of the things happening outside of these doors. Without that, and without every member of our staff who help make up the personality of the business, it’s hard to feel like we’re 100% Eastbound.

This is where we try our best to shift perspective. A quiet mantra of Chef Tara's is that we’re lucky to be here, and we’re lucky to be working. No matter the difficulty of the situation, we’ve been lucky to continue answering yes to that first question. Yes, we will be open tomorrow.

This gets us to what I’m most excited to share. If you’ve been following us on social media, or are subscribed to our weekly newsletter, you probably have some puzzle piece insight into our day-to-day life around here. I’m here to connect those pieces. Honestly, I think the edges and corners are all done, so let’s move towards the middle (and that impossible section of sky).

Let’s start in the brewery where, fortunately, not too much has changed. Maybe that’s understating it a little. Dave and I are still causing a low-level nuisance for the remaining staff, as we soundtrack brew-days with off-pitched acapella, and enact a sketch show being filmed by no one. Whether that is a crude attempt at maintaining a positive atmosphere, or just evolved banging on pots and pans is up for interpretation. The major shift is brewing almost exclusively for cans; with the smallest percentage of batches being reserved for Crowlers. This was one of the most straightforward adjustments to be made. If people can’t come into the brewpub for a pull off of draught, then we best find a way to shove it all out of the front door.

The shift in format was met with a major shift in distribution (which sounds all kinds of too corporate), with the development of home delivery. Briefly operating in a legal grey area, the industry at large moved past some questionable/archaic distribution laws and took matters into our own hands. This was transformative; not just as a hopeful sign for the survival of Eastbound, but it literally overhauled the space, and our schedules. The back brewery-bar, which used to be our hub for all kinds of parties and celebratory gatherings, became overrun with enough cases to make a (very) small city skyline.

Mornings, Tuesday through Saturday, still look like this: we collect all of the necessary beer to fulfill orders from the previous day, where we organize them on the back bar before dividing them up amongst individual orders. This has become an oddly significant way to start our mornings. Not only is it a daily reminder of the continued support of our community, but it’s a little shared time as a staff to catch up. While this may have seen the occasional expletive laced rant (deserved, and therapeutic), it was also time to talk about whatever little happenings were going on at home. This ritual was one of many that helped keep a feeling of community and family for us.

Deserving of some special note is the work of Chef Tara. Always at the front of her mind was the question of how to best recreate the Eastbound experience at home. That would seem an insurmountable task to me. There was an awareness that nothing would be exact in trying to deliver Eastbound home, but that has not stopped Tara from trying. Echoing the sentiments of restaurateur Jen Agg, a significant portion of the restaurant experience is about being taken care of. With so many elements of that notion having been stripped, Tara has focused on what is still in her control: Delivering a night off, with food that has all the love and warmth of a home-cooked meal.

Expanding off of that was the introduction, and rapid expansion of the Eastbound Market. Hopefully you’ve already come into the retail shop, to be surprised by the array of options the kitchen has put out. It’s become a full range from ready to heat meals, right down to the smaller tools you need to fix up dinner with some Eastbound flair. It’s a real joy to come into the brewpub in the morning to see Ang (brunch fixture, icon of function/fashion footwear, and confection whisperer) single handedly fulfilling a Fordian line of trays of lasagna, and shepherd’s pie. The kitchen now works a balancing act between keeping the Market stocked, and keeping take-out and delivery orders fulfilled. More credit due to the team in managing to deal with the wailing notifications of the different delivery apps (each with its own distinct form of annoyance).

Lastly, a good deal of this work is funneled through our Retail Shop; which is all that remains of Front-of-House through another stage of lockdown. Even though the format hasn’t changed, short of some spatial adjustment and erected plexiglass, our ever essential storefront remains a key component to the larger picture. It’s where Meg and Darren still greet you with a masked smile (trust me, it’s under there), and deliver an abbreviated iteration of -well- pure Eastbound. Meg still looks forward to seeing Butch on Fridays, handing him a bag of piping hot fish-n-chips, and maybe a few cans of Revealed Constellations. It’s not a perfect recreation of being tucked into the bar, a basket instead of a bag, glass instead of a can, but it’s what we have for now and we’re embracing it as best we can.

This is just a small glimpse into the day-to-day life at Eastbound through the pandemic. It’s only skimming over the personalities whose relentless positivity keeps the system driving forward. We’re endlessly thankful for the continued support of our community; you help keep a very clear vision of what we’re working towards. Just like you, we’re doing everything we can to realize this vision, when we’re together again, staff and customers, fulfilling the promise of Eastbound to its fullest.

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