When the first shutdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic found some people marooned at home, Peter Hoey and Rob Archie found themselves in the dish pit.
Hoey and Archie are co-owners of Urban Roots Brewery & Smokehouse on V Street in Sacramento. In normal times, Archie oversees the kitchen and front-of-house operations, while Hoey heads up brewing. They own the kind of place where, in non-pandemic times, a person might gather with strangers at a shared table, drinking Czech-style lager and eating smoked brisket.
But strange times have led to some unusual tasks for business owners, with Hoey and Archie having to wash dishes for Urban Roots for 2-3 weeks beginning at the end of last March after they closed for dine-in service and furloughed all but about five key employees for their business. “It’s just a collaborative team effort to do whatever we need to do to get to the goal,” Archie says.
They have persevered, though, with Urban Roots showing the same kind of spirit that has defined it since its 2016 opening, as Comstock’s previously reported (“Craft Brewers Take a Can-Do Attitude” in March 2020). The business is even thriving in some respects, amid a uniquely challenging environment for restaurants and brewpubs: Urban Roots was one of six breweries nationwide selected in January for Brewbound’s Rising Star Award. Brewbound is a trade publication that analyzes trends in the beer industry.
Urban Roots isn’t turning a profit at the moment, which is likely a reflection of the periodic shutdowns and limited outdoor seating capacity allowed by state and county guidelines at different points over the last 11 months.
“It’s been really challenging in that our business model was based on retail sales, direct-to-customer sales,” Hoey says. “That means pints at the bar and plates of food here. Now, we’ve done the same pivot that everyone else has done, where we switched to a lot of to-go, we’re doing outdoor dining space. We’re fortunate that we have a patio that can accommodate over 100 people while still being distanced.”
The name of the game, as Hoey puts it, “is pay my employees first, pay rent, keep the lights on, and if there’s any leftover, my partner and I, we can pay ourselves a little bit.” He says Urban Roots received a loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and is in the process of applying for the next round of funding.
Another part of the game for Hoey and Archie these days involves looking at different activities for their business, such as expanding a wholesale distribution effort that they were starting to ramp up prior to the pandemic. Today, their beer can be found in seven Raley’s and Bel-Air stores and at every Nugget Market in the Sacramento region, Hoey says.
In normal times, Urban Roots is “about coming together at a physical place and drinking beer together,” he says, adding, “The inability to do that is going to affect breweries of all sizes. Those that have a wholesale presence will fare better because they have that additional stream of revenue.”
Meanwhile, Archie, who also owns Pangaea Bier Cafe on Franklin Boulevard in Sacramento’s Curtis Park neighborhood, organized informal community gatherings in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police in May 2020. “It was just a platform for people to share their emotions, their thoughts, their insights into what’s going on and just have a place to talk about it,” Archie says. “Because I felt like the problem was people not talking.”
Overall, Hoey is optimistic for the future, saying, “It’s not pre-pandemic numbers, but we’re in a good spot as far as restaurant sales.”
Archie, who says he started Pangaea during the last major recession in 2008, agrees. “There’s going to be such a deep appreciation for fundamental things that we had yesterday that we are able to carry on to tomorrow,” Archie says. “And I know that. Guests will be appreciative, I think our team is appreciative, I feel like there’s a deep appreciation for what we can do and what we’re able to do after seeing what can be taken from us.”
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In March, the escalating coronavirus pandemic prompted California state leaders to shut bars and force restaurants to provide only takeout food. Now, breweries that once thrived on over-the-bar service are scrambling to sell enough beer just to survive.
Thanks to a temporary relaxation of Alcoholic Beverage Control laws, most California breweries have pivoted to curbside and delivery business. But how much longer local breweries will survive — and what the long-term effects of the pandemic on the Sacramento-area beer scene will be — remain unknown.
There is probably no stronger indication of the strength and maturity of the Sacramento beer scene than the fact that so many breweries, both local and out-of-town, have opened or plan to open second or third locations in the area.
Peter Hoey, co-owner of Urban Roots Brewery & Smokehouse, is hoping a long-term gamble on barrel-aged beer will pay off in the form of satisfied customers who leave thirsty for more.