Snake River Brewing opens after COVID-19-related closure

People dine outside Friday at Snake River Brewing. The brew pub reopened Thursday for dine-in and takeout service after closing June 30 when it was announced that two employees tested positive for COVID-19.

The recent uptick in Teton County’s coronavirus cases has “brought out the best and worst in people,” said Will Nowack, co-owner of The Bird and Eleanor’s.

As COVID-19 surges in the valley, restaurants — many of which rely on the steady stream of business from summer tourism — are faced with a tough decision: whether or not to close their doors.

Nowack preemptively decided to close his restaurants’ dining rooms, opting for takeout only.

“We made this decision for the safety of our staff, but it was a really tough business choice,” Nowack said.

Three Bird/Eleanor’s employees who had been exposed to coronavirus in their personal lives all tested negative.

Snake River Brewing reopened Thursday following a brief shutdown it decided on after one production employee and a front-of-house worker tested positive. Sales and Marketing Director Luke Bauer believes those positives are isolated incidents.

Upon learning about the employees’ test results, Snake River Brewing’s “first thought was to contact Teton Public Health to make sure we were following all guidelines,” Bauer said.

Although Teton Public Health didn’t mandate that Snake River close its doors, the brewery did so July 1 “in the interest of [the] staff” and so that it could “take a look at everything to make sure our procedures were working,” Bauer said.

The brewery, in conjunction with St. John’s Health, offered free testing to all its employees.

Jim Waldrop, president and general manager of Silver Dollar Inc. — which manages The Wort Hotel and the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar — is as thankful as ever for his employees.

“I’m so proud of them,” Waldrop said. “It’s a very difficult time, and it’s a lot of extra work and emotion.”

The Wort’s Silver Dollar Bar & Grill has stayed open, “because of the employees and their commitment to safety,” Waldrop said.

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar reopened Tuesday after a brief closure. Waldrop declined to say if there are any known coronavirus outbreaks related to the Cowboy Bar.

Snake River Brewing can hold about 50% of its usual capacity, which is “as maximum capacity as [they] can handle,” Bauer said.

In contrast, the Cowboy Bar has been operating at only 25% capacity, Waldrop said.

The three restaurateurs all say they are strictly following Teton Public Health guidelines, but “when you tell [some customers] the rules, they get aggressive with you,” Nowack said. “I can’t guarantee that the customers are social-distancing in their personal lives.”

Across the board, patience is running thin for customers who refuse to comply with coronavirus regulations. Some patrons have even pushed back against restaurants’ efforts to keep their staff and clients healthy.

“The amount of verbal abuse we’ve taken is insane,” Nowack said.

“A lot of people don’t care, and that’s their prerogative,” he said. “But people have families and preexisting conditions. If one of my staff members got sick or every worse,

“I would be heartbroken. They’re my family.”

Bauer said, “We’re just trying to keep things as normal as we possibly can.”

No restaurant knows what the future holds.

“I wish I had a crystal ball,” Waldrop said.

But they can all agree that, with the coronavirus around, business isn’t as usual.

While closed, Snake River Brewing partially sustained its revenue stream by maintaining beer production and selling cans, but Bauer said that its “bread and butter is always the restaurant, so [they’re] going to take a big hit this year.”

Nowack is planning to limit The Bird and Eleanor’s to takeout only for the next two weeks.

Other restaurants have also closed their dining rooms and opted for takeout. You can see the News&Guide’s running list at TinyURL.com/yy9ec534.

Contact Julia Hornstein via jhornstein@jhnewsandguide.com.

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