By Patrick Flaherty
Tiger Town Brewing in Mitchell shut down all operations for on-site dining and imbibing as soon as the word came in from the Governor on March 16. Shawn Hawkins, owner of Tiger Town Brewing, put 10 employees on laid off status and 3 new hires were unable to start work. He then applied for federal disaster loans. His priority was making sure his staff did not undergo hardships as a result of the COVID closure. Hawkins even made personal loans available to employees in need.
“I’m worried way less about the business funds than the employee assistance funds,” he said. Hawkins did receive a $10,000 advance from the Economic Injury and Disaster Loan (EIDL) program and a final loan amount of over six figures from the Small Business Administration (SBA). He will also take advantage of the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) funds for eight weeks that could be forgiven if 75% is used for payroll.
Hawkins says, “I would rather give money to my employees than to pay it back to the federal government.” The next staff he plans to hire back will be those who were denied unemployment for one reason or another.
His hope was for the Oregon shut down to end on April 30th, so he could resume regular business operations. There may be some light coming as Gov. Kate Brown has created a framework for opening more rural counties on May 15. For the last three weekends Tiger Town provided takeout food orders: 11-7 Saturdays and 11-5 on Sundays. Some employees have been able to clock hours during the “stay home, save lives” orders from the Governor. Employees also helped with maintenance odds and ends on the premises like trim work and painting. “If all goes well we should be on 7 days a week.” says Hawkins. “I don’t want anyone to be in harm’s way, those that are high risk should make that decision.”
The outside seating should make the brewery opening easier with regards to public safety. “I have all this outside space, tables 10 feet apart, we are ready to go with the orders.” If all the people coming in are from the same group Hawkins says he can accommodate up to 10 people at a sitting. And in the inside seating area he will recognize 6-foot social distancing for groups of patrons.
The Wheeler county planner Matt Davis recently came by to discuss opening guidelines with Hawkins. Davis is submitting paperwork with the governor’s office for approval to allow Tiger Town and other Wheeler County eateries to function as full-service restaurants. Hawkins says, “It should be a no-brainer, there are no cases here.”
Tiger Town Brewery outdoor stage hosts various events that will be put on hold. “We have had to cancel the Tiger Town Music Festival,” Hawkins says. He also doubts that the Painted Hills Festival will take place over Labor Day Weekend.
“Usually our busy period is Memorial Day on, people are coming out, but people are still scared to leave the house. We are still brewing during this time as we anticipate a strong summer when people are able to get back out into the world.”, says Hawkins.
“We can still distribute kegs but all sales are down in the restaurant world so nothing is moving very quickly.”
Tiger Town is still able to sell beer growlers to go. Hawkins adds that people coming to Mitchell “have been very happy that somebody’s open and they’ve been very generous with their tips.”