It’s not hard to remember that just over two months ago when the global pandemic began, there was not only widespread panic about the current state of things, but also about basic needs. Cleaning supplies, grocery items and, of course, toilet paper flew off the shelves.
Caboose Brewing Company knew there would still be a demand for local beer, even if people had to drive up to get it, but the team wanted to go even further to serve the community. With both locations (Caboose Tavern in Vienna and Caboose Commons in Fairfax) open and offering takeaway meals, curbside pickup and more, the company also started Caboose Market, a grocery store spinoff based out of the Vienna location.
The company now offers grocery delivery or pickup for items ranging from local dairy products to fresh produce, and that once-coveted toilet paper too. Caboose has even been taking donations from local residents (initiated by the Facebook group Vienna VA Foodies and INOVA Cares) to donate grocery boxes to families in need, as well as prepared meals to INOVA Hospital staff members.
To get the inside scoop on how the pandemic has been playing out inside of Caboose Brewing Company, including new beers being released and potential summer dining plans, we caught up with Courtney Beazell, the events and marketing manager for Caboose Brewing Company. Highlights from our conversation below.
Looking back to the beginning of the pandemic, how did you all react and what were your next steps?
We had multiple meetings leading up to the entire area shutting down. We wanted to make sure we were prepared as a team to communicate with our customers what changes were happening—there were many—and what our procedures would be like in different scenarios. It felt like things were changing every day, then every three days and then finally it was stable for a little bit. First and foremost, we wanted to make sure our staff and customers were safe when coming to Caboose—cleaning was amplified everywhere inside and outside, GoTab ordering was being implemented more for ordering ahead and more. We then needed to figure out what people needed and couldn’t get access to, and that is where the grocery initiative came in. Many people were unable to do curbside pickup at their local stores due to the demand, and we knew we had to shift to make sure our customers were taken care of on all fronts, not just beer, coffee and takeout food.
Now that you have made the transition into to-go meals, curbside delivery for beer and grocery delivery, how does the business look different and feel different on an everyday basis?
Business definitely looks and feels different. Caboose Commons currently serves our customers through a takeout window, much like if you were to order from an ice cream shop. Our menu at Commons was designed to be eaten to-go or on site, so not much changed other than shrinking the menu a bit and requiring all food be packaged in takeout boxes. We were one of the only coffee shops left open in the Mosaic District, so we had a lot of new customers trying our product, which was a nice positive. At Caboose Tavern, we started off with takeout beer and food, but then shut the doors. We shifted our operations from takeout beer and food to grocery pickup and delivery. We are still doing grocery, but have added back a small food menu and takeout beer. It has been nice to have some familiar faces back buying beer in Vienna.
Speaking of the grocery pickup in Vienna, how did that idea come about, and how is it going for you all?
We saw a need for it in our community. Many people couldn’t get meat, fresh produce or even toilet paper. Many people tried ordering curbside pickup, but had to wait a week before they could get their orders fulfilled. We wanted to be able to get our neighbors fresh groceries when they needed them. It was also nice to be able to help out our vendors, by ordering the produce, meats and cheeses from them. It has really brought our community together.
Through the grocery initiative Caboose has also been donating meals and grocery boxes to those in need. How did that start, and what does it mean to you to be able to give back to the community in times like this?
We originally started off with meal donations to the staff at INOVA since we used to see a lot of INOVA employees at Caboose Commons at all times of day. We love that they support us so much, so we felt it was the least we could do. They are all working hard to keep us safe. We can’t wait to have them back in the space after their shifts. We started doing grocery donations a few weeks ago and it has taken off. It is incredible how generous people are during this crazy, trying time. We connected with INOVA Cares and Vienna VA Foodies, to connect us with those families in need. I personally really love being a part of a company that cares so deeply about the community around it.
On top of it all, Caboose is still releasing new beers for people to enjoy. What has that process been like, and what flavors are you all most excited about that people can get their hands on now (or soon)?
It gives people something to look forward to. I think people need that right now more than ever. People are really excited for the Blackberry Gose to be in cans finally and the new collaboration with Fairfax-based Lost Whiskey called Fireside Ale. We ended up having a “Bourbon, Beer, & BBQ” takeout event with them as well, and people seemed like they were just happy to be out of the house in some kind of “normal” situation—even though it was far from it. We have more new stuff coming, so stay tuned!
Summer is going to be different this year, and we’re all not quite sure how everything is going to play out. How is Caboose approaching the summer months with potentially reopening and more?
We are taking it day by day, because who knows what the next few weeks will bring. This time of year is usually my favorite—I love all the festivals, private events, the weather and more. It is sad most of it will not be happening, but we just have to kind of roll with it at this point. Once we do get to have people back on the patio, since we are fortunate to have outdoor space at both locations, we will just have to get creative when serving people, placement of tables and other factors.
What do you miss most about having both spaces filled with guests?
I miss the energy having a full restaurant brings. Both spaces are great gathering places for family, friends or just to hang out. I think we miss the customers as much as they miss being with us. It will be a bittersweet reunion when it finally happens.
What do you think Caboose has learned most during the pandemic, and what will you be thankful for once it’s all (eventually) over?
Going through this pandemic has just proven how awesome our team is. Everyone is working so hard. I am really excited to get back into a routine with our staff, including events and festivals. I can’t wait until a full restaurant is socially acceptable again. I know it will be a long time coming, but I hope the light at the end of the tunnel comes sooner rather than later.
What else should readers know about how Caboose has adapted and how they can continue to support the business through this pandemic?
We love having people continue to come back day after day to get their coffee, lunch or beer. It feels good to know so many people love us and keep coming back to support in any way they can. Right now, the best way to support small businesses is to get takeout, groceries, tell your friends, post photos of yourself at either location or just give us a review online. Any small effort counts!
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