Migration Brewing has changed its operating situation at least five times over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
First, owner Colin Rath shut down entirely. Then he reopened, but only for outdoor service. Then customers were allowed inside, but the number of people who could be served at once changed several times.
Migration Brewing has four locations, all in Multnomah County, which is headed into the “extreme risk” category on Friday, following an announcement Tuesday from Gov. Kate Brown. In Multnomah and 14 other counties that have will soon have the tightest restrictions, restaurants will be limited to outdoor or take-out dining.
In her announcement, Brown said she’d next revisit county risk levels on Tuesday, May 4, with potential changes taking effect the following Friday. The governor also said that counties won’t remain in “extreme risk” for more than three weeks at a time. It could be even shorter for counties that “meet the country metrics for case rates and percent positivity.”
The decision comes as Oregon confronts a fourth wave of COVID-19.
At his brewery Monday, before the latest changes were announced, Rath said the uncertainty is a logistical nightmare.
“By not being able to plan, that means we then run out of things because we run thinner, so that things don’t go bad and aren’t perished,” he said. “It’s a whole lot of a guessing game. Staff don’t know what to plan on. Guests don’t know what to plan on.”
Rath said the constant changes can affect the company’s relationship with customers. They show up to eat or have a beer and are disappointed when they are turned away.
“Rather than getting upset, people stop going and supporting certain places because it bounces back and forth,” he said.
While many restaurants are facing tighter rules starting Friday, Brown offered one change in hopes of making life easier for them: the limit on outdoor dining has been expanded from 50 to 100 people in “extreme risk” counties, so long as social distancing and other safety measures are in place. However, restaurateurs point out that many establishments would not be affected by the higher limit, because they don’t have space for that many patrons at one time.
Of the roughly 10,400 restaurants and food outlets around Oregon, Jason Brandt, president of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, estimates about 1,000 have closed permanently because of the pandemic.
“We’ve just been clobbered as an industry, absolutely clobbered, for over a year now,” he said.
Brandt said the governor’s frequent changes — a response as cases rise and fall — play havoc with the food industry.
“The goal posts continue to move in a way that makes it nearly impossible for these operators to plan in advance. And that’s unacceptable for us,” he said. “At minimum, these small business restaurants have been asked to close over three different times. In the worst situations, in some counties, it’s been eight, nine or 10 times that they’ve had to close. It’s just extraordinary, nothing like it in the history of business.”
He isn’t sure business owners will go along with the next round of restrictions, even with potential fines looming.
“We’re dealing with a growing number of phone calls from small businesses that are fed up,” he said. “They’re just tired of this rigmarole that they’ve been living with for over 13 months now.”
Rather than close restaurants and bars, Brandt thinks the governor should be encouraging the more than 1 million Oregonians who have been fully vaccinated to go out and enjoy themselves, while those who haven’t been vaccinated concentrate on finding an appointment.
Brown is on board for part of that, at least — the vaccination part.
“The fastest way to lift health and safety restrictions is for Oregonians to get vaccinated as quickly as possible and follow the safety measures we know stop this virus from spreading,” Brown said Tuesday.
Brown said help is on the way for some businesses, noting in her Tuesday announcement that she’s working with legislative leaders to provide $20 million to businesses in “extreme risk” counties.
“After conversations with legislative leaders, I am confident we can move quickly to bring relief to businesses and their employees in Extreme Risk counties,” Brown said.