Business / Economy

San Benito bars and wineries cautiously reopen

Owners and customers are glad to be back.
Sean and Fran Fitzharris of Brewery Twenty Five. Photo courtesy of Brewery Twenty Five.
Sean and Fran Fitzharris of Brewery Twenty Five. Photo courtesy of Brewery Twenty Five.
Una Mas Saloon owner Yolanda Torres. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Una Mas Saloon owner Yolanda Torres. Photo by Robert Eliason.
In the window of 18th Barrel. Photo provided.
In the window of 18th Barrel. Photo provided.

Lori Wilson has spent a lot of time gardening over the last couple of weeks. It involves the usual planting, weeding and pruning, and arranging tables in the garden and patio area so they are six feet apart. Her bar, Bear’s Hideaway in San Juan Bautista, has been given the green light to reopen and she’s been getting the place in order.

Under the state’s phased reopening plan, bars and wineries are now able to reopen under Stage Three with the same kinds of restrictions placed on other businesses. Restaurants were allowed to resume dine-in service in this phase as well.  Patrons are required to wear face masks as they enter, though masks can be removed once the patron is seated; tables must be six feet apart; occupancy is limited; and a rigorous cleaning protocol has to be followed.

But Wilson said she does not mind at all and is looking forward to seeing her regulars again.  

“I have a really great following and I enjoy how everyone enjoys each other,” she said. “We have a wonderful community here.”

The initial shutdown orders had a serious impact on local wineries and bars, closing them down to any public commerce beyond wine and beverage pickups. Two local bars began resuming regular hours and seating customers when the state issued its criteria for reopening restaurants.

When Yolanda Torres, owner of Una Mas Saloon in San Juan Bautista, discovered last month that Whiskey Creek Saloon in Hollister had been able to reopen, she rushed over to find out how they did it. The key, she said, was serving food.

“Under the governor’s plan, bars and pubs can reopen as long as some kind of food is available. I had to get contracts with local restaurants because everyone who comes in has to have something to eat,” she said.

The bar came under criticism from the city of San Juan Bautista after it received reports of occupancy limit violations. Torres said inspections by the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office and undercover Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents did not reveal any violations.

18th Barrel reopened on June 6 and brought in a food truck to accommodate the state requirement, making food available in their patio area. Prior to that, the tasting room was open only for takeout.

As of June 12, the restriction has been lifted and food service is no longer required. That makes things a little easier, according to owner Monica Ramirez.

“When we had a food truck it was really difficult for us to deal with. We had to take the orders and bring the food to the customers. We don’t usually have food service so it was complicated,” she said.

After a try at curbside service, Daisy’s Saloon, owned by Cara Denny, will be reopening as well. As with Ramirez and 18th Barrel, Denny spent the downtime working on her bar and customer areas.

“I tried to stay open doing to-go orders, but I felt pressure from people who were expecting me to completely open,” Denny said. “I decided to close and then I got busy finishing the bar, doing some upgrades in the patio and putting in a sprinkler system. But it is time now, and I am looking forward to reconnecting with my customers.”

Some places are still making adjustments before a full launch. Brewery Twenty-Five is limiting itself to phone orders and pick-ups while redesigning its taproom. Johnny’s Bar and Grill in Hollister reopened on June 15 with a quick phasing-in of its regular menu. 

Wineries are also reopening on the same schedule with similar restrictions, some only taking a limited number of reservations. Derose Winery, for example, is offering reservations within three-time slots at 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.  

One change with the way tastings are handled under current guidelines will be to reduce the amount of contact with customers. Any wines included in a tasting need to be poured and served at one time. Leal Vineyard will be bringing customers their tastings on multi-glass wine trees, for instance.

As with the restaurant reopenings, bars and wineries are keeping options open as to scheduled times and the number of guests they can accommodate. Calling ahead is advised, as seating will be limited for the time being.

While the businesses are restricted in the number of people they can serve, Torres said customers are glad to be back and are showing it. 

“I make more on tips than I do on beverages,” she said. “The customers are so appreciative of us being open. One man ordered one drink and left $30. I am so lucky.”


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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.