Restaurants Reopen, And Now Governor Says Breweries Can, Too

May 22, 2020

Updated Sunday, May 24, 2020 
Gov. Roy Cooper's Phase 2 reopening took effect Friday at 5 p.m., letting North Carolinians sit down for a pint or glass of wine at their favorite restaurants. And at the last minute, state officials decided some breweries, and other distillers can open, too, according new guidance on the governor's website. But it appears you'll still have to wait to visit most bars.  

The governor's office says in a website FAQ and a new guidance advisory that breweries, cideries, wineries and distilleries can open taprooms and tasting rooms, if their main business is brewing for off-site consumption. They'll have to follow the same social distancing and safety guidelines as restaurants.  

"We're very pleased to be open again," Richard Greene of the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild said Friday night. "In Phase 2,  there were some questions around the definitions of bars and breweries, and we worked very closely with the governor's office and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, to be able to clarify that definition so we could open." 

The document didn't address bottle shops, wine bars or other establishments, which remained closed. But on Sunday, the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission issued new guidance on Phase 2, and added bottle and wine shops to the list of establishments that can open.  Those shops are now specifically excluded from the definition of "bar," as long they derive most of their revenue from carryout sales.   

Private clubs are still a gray area. If they served food before the COVID-19 restrictions took effect, they may be able to reopen, with some limits, the ABC Commission said.

Breweries, taprooms and bars originally were excluded from the governor's order out Wednesday.   Chris and Tara Goulet run Birdsong Brewing, just east of uptown Charlotte.  Their taproom remains closed for now. Chris Goulet said he can sort of see why they were left out. 

“Roy (Cooper) didn't call me directly,” Goulet said, laughing. “But I'm guessing that a place that's predominantly a drinking establishment isn't as high a priority for this phase.”

Goulet said before the clarification that even if they were allowed to reopen, he has mixed feelings about the restrictions that come with it. With face masks and social distancing, he said Birdsong just wouldn't be the same.  

“Birdsong is a gathering place, right? It's where people come to meet friends or to make new friends," Goulet said. "We don't have TVs in our taproom intentionally because we want people to talk to each other. We hang out, have pints, have meaningful conversations.  So, it would feel un-Birdsong-esque, if that's a phrase that I can butcher.”

Fortunately, the taproom is only a small part of Birdsong's business, Goulet said. They're surviving for now on sales to grocery stores, and now to restaurants that are reopening, as well as curbside pickup. 

What’s A Bar, Exactly?

Cooper's executive order says restaurants can reopen but bars cannot. But what qualifies as a bar? State health director Mandy Cohen told WFAE's Lisa Worf this week that food service is the dividing line. 

“I think that's more of a lawyer question, but my understanding is restaurants are obviously folks who are serving food, and bars are ones that do not have a food component,” she said. 

Cooper foreshadowed the new guidance at a mid-afternoon press briefing Friday.  He said said he's concerned about businesses that can't open yet. 

“But we have to keep the health and safety of North Carolinians as the No. 1 priority here,” Cooper said. “We're going to continue to work with those businesses, but many of them are high risk for transfer of COVID.”

Cooper noted that Georgia, which began reopening before North Carolina, has yet to let bars open their doors. 

Some Breweries And Wine Bars Qualify

For some breweries, there was no confusion over whether they could reopen.  Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in Charlotte’s South End is a full-service restaurant and announced this week it planned to reopen.  

Lindsey Williams
Credit Davidson Wine Company

And Davidson Wine Company in Davidson pans to reopen Saturday. Owner Lindsey Williams said her wine bar qualifies as a restaurant because it has a full kitchen. 

“So for us, it was pretty cut and dry," Williams said. "I know for other folks who serve wine and other wine shops that might not have a full kitchen, and might only serve charcuterie, it's a different situation."

She said they'll be wearing masks and they've removed tables and bar stools for social distancing.  Still, she doesn't expect people to flood back, so she'll keep doing curbside pickup for those who want it. 

“We fully recognize that there are gonna be folks that aren't ready yet to dine in or even sit on our patio. And so we're going to continue to offer the service and that actually gets easier as we're fully open,” Williams said.

Some Won’t Reopen Yet

Jason Glunt of Salud Beer Shop
Credit Salud Beer Shop

And just because some owners can open doesn't mean they will. Salud Beer Shop in NoDa has a wood-fired pizza kitchen and could reopen. But owner Jason Glunt is holding back, just selling beer and wine for takeout.

He said his employees drove the decision. They were concerned about the virus and the governor's order that limits restaurants to 50% capacity. 

“You're gonna make a quarter of the money you usually make when you worked here before, if people show up. And you might get sick,” Glunt said. “I mean, we're gonna have to get ready for the second wave or whatever is coming here. I mean, just 'cause some governor says, 'Hey, it's cool,' that doesn't mean the virus is gone.”

Limits on bars are expected to be relaxed in Phase 3 of North Carolina's reopening, which could come June 26.

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