- By Phillip V. Cruz, Jr
Still reeling from the pandemic lockdown hangover, Guam bars and taverns operate cautiously
Since bars and taverns were given the go-ahead to operate up to 75 percent of their capacity, most related business owners have been able to fill their glasses only half-full.
Barely a month since raising the crowd limit for drinking establishments, the Guam Department of Health and Social Services last week reinstated the 50-percent cap on occupancy.
One bar owner in Tamuning said the traffic at her restaurant-bar lounge has been steady, but operating the business has been challenging. For patrons, painting the town red in the post-Covid era is not the same as it used to be.
Their moves are guarded. They take off their masks to eat or drink, or when they’re outside the establishment for a smoke. But when partying, one is likely to get oblivious to the public health department’s rules. The 6-ft distance mandate becomes optional.
The Tamuning bar owner, who requested not to be named, said her business has been slapped with fines more than once already – in the amount totaling $3,000 — for violation of the pandemic-related public safety measures.
More than a dozen bars and restaurants have been cited by the Department of Public Health and Social Services’ Environmental Divisions since January for violating the public health emergency protocols.
Another business closed late last month for deep cleaning after it was discovered through contact tracing that patrons had been exposed to a Covid-19 carrier. The owner said his karaoke lounge will have been sanitized and will be up and running by May 1.
In the absence of tourists, drinking and dining establishments rely on the local market. With federal stimulus funds that keep coming, Guam residents are quite loaded. Military personnel and contractors working on projects augment the foot traffic.
Some bars have yet to reopen since the last time they made the last call. Kento’s Dance & Night Club at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and The Globe Dance Club at the Sandcastle – mainstays in the tourism district of Tumon — have other plans.
Kento’s management plans to rebrand its venue, and said it could open “possibly” by the end of the year. The Globe, likewise, has no immediate plans to reopen at all.
Guam bars and taverns qualify for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s newly launched Restaurant Revitalization Fund. “The SBA has focused on the marketplace realities of our food and beverage businesses in designing the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to meet businesses where they are,” SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman said. “And we are committed to equity to ensure our smaller and underserved businesses, which have suffered the most, can access this critical relief, recover, and grow more resilient.”
Established under President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund provides a total of $28.6 billion in direct relief funds to America’s food and beverage industry.
Many restaurants and bars had to shut their doors when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Guam’s shores in March last year. Many of these businesses weren’t equipped, nor did they have contingency plans to remain open. A different story is told by the Carabao Brewing Company.
Having opened only eight months prior to the shutdown, the new restaurant-bar, which occupies the old Mermaid’s Tavern in Hagatna— was gradually getting busier. “People were slowly discovering who we are,” said Anna Johnson, general manager.
Although Carabao Brewing didn’t have a contingency plan either, Johnson believes that no one was ready for the shutdown. “What we did was continually adapt to the ever-changing circumstances. We adapted how we worked with guests, how we used our social media marketing, and the products we were creating,” she said.
Johnson said the establishment focused on beer and sausage orders to-go. Customers could call ahead, or go to the restaurant and order their drinks and food, and then pick them up. “They weren’t changes, exactly,” Johnson added. “We were already doing those things. They helped us make enough money to continue to stay open and pay our staff, even though they were not coming in to work.”
Carabao Brewing brews its own beer— ales, lagers, even a “Papa Murph Coffee Nitro,” a stout infused with Coffee Slut’s Ethiopian coffee. Some of the beers take two, and up to six weeks, to cook up. The restaurant side of the business offers a complete Kitchen & Deli Case Menu, including a variety of fresh and smoked sausages, meats, salads, “sandos,” chips, dips and desserts.
Kitchen Manager Cindy Tucker initially was very worried at the announcement of the shutdown, but her main concern was that all the food they had prepped would go to waste.
“Oh, Lord, what am I going to do with all this food?” she wondered. Tucker is grateful that she continued to get a paycheck through much of the yearlong shutdown. “We’re a big family,” Tucker said. “We like to take care of our own. It’s like I’m working with my nieces and nephews.”