Chris Knudson, Co-owner of Well 80 Brewhouse and Casa Mia Restaurants, Talks Business During COVID-19
Almost one year ago, Governor Inslee signed a Stay Home Stay Healthy order closing all businesses deemed not essential — the order included restaurants. To learn first-hand what the past year has been like for local restaurants, we spoke with Chris Knudson, co-owner of Well 80 Brewhouse and Casa Mia restaurants. We talked to him about how much has changed since March 23, 2020, and how his business is faring amid continual setbacks and if there are any silver linings.
Thurston EDC: Chris, tell us about what has changed from a customer’s perspective since a year ago.
Chris: If someone teleported to Well 80 Brewhouse today from the pre-COVID era, they would immediately spot visible differences in how the restaurant is laid out and what the customers and staff look like. We have a strict mandatory mask-wearing policy. If someone tells us that they have a medical condition and cannot wear a mask, we do not let them inside or onto our patios to eat outside. Instead, we are happy to accommodate them with take out that they can order over the phone from their vehicle. After the meal is prepared we will bring it to their car. We enforce the mask policy for both staff and patrons’ safety, and we take it very seriously.
Another noticeable difference is the tables are spaced out, so there is far less seating than in the pre-COVID days. Also, visitors would notice plexiglass partitions inside and out.
Outside the restaurant, we’ve added more outdoor and patio seating. We’ve completed significant upgrades to outdoor spaces that we’ll be able to use moving forward.
There are other less visible changes we’ve put into place since COVID. Our cleaning protocol has changed significantly. After each guest leaves, we clean every table and chair with a sanitizing spray; we use a clean pen every time and countless other small cleaning regimes.
For a while before the state opened up to 25% general occupancy. We were able to open up as an open-air dining establishment because of our large door that opens. You have to have a permeable wall, and we have two, one out front and one on the side alley. Before we opened at 25% capacity, we had to monitor Co2 levels, which was a nightmare. When you are in a brewery, Co2 levels can go up all the time because you are pushing beer and soda with Co2. It was hard to achieve the legal levels. Every evening at 5 p.m., increases in traffic outside the restaurant caused Co2 levels to rise. We understand the premise behind the monitoring, but it was hard for us.
Thurston EDC: Have any good things happened as a result of COVID?
Chris Knudson: The cool thing about Well 80 is the amount of outdoor seating we were able to add. We added new awnings and heaters, and transparent curtains to keep the heat in and protect patrons from the weather.
If you walk down our block on a Friday night, you’ll see people dining outdoors and hear music from the outdoor speakers at both Well 80 and Equal Latin. It creates an inviting and festive atmosphere.
Thurston EDC: How were you able to keep the business afloat during and after the stay home order?
Chris Knudson: We were able to remain viable thanks to grants and the PPP loans. If it wasn’t for those programs, there is no way we would still be here and keeping people employed.
Thurston EDC: Is there anything you’d change if you could go back in time?
Chris Knudson: Hindsight is 2020, but if this happened again in our lifetime, I would push to close everything down for a month. Everything. We’d need to figure out a way to supplement businesses, but we would not be where we are today if we had stopped this in the early stages.
Thurston EDC: How will you sustain at 25%?
Chris Knudson: I don’t think 25% is sustainable, but we’ve made it this far with the help of PPP and grants, and I’m confident we’ll survive. I’d like to see this thing go away. Over 500,000 people died, including a staff member’s brother. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about being open at 25%. I’m worried about my parents. I’m worried about my staff. We want to be open; we don’t want our business to fail, but 500,000 people dying from this pandemic is crazy. One year ago, we heard about the first person dying from COVID. If you would have told me a year ago that 500,000 people die from COVID-19, I’d have said they were crazy. Hopefully, we’re nearing the end as more people are vaccinated. We’re ready to return to business as usual and tackle the everyday business challenges.