Bodriggy Brewing Co. opened its Abbotsford venue 12 months ago, and it’s been a rollercoaster of a year.
When its 400-capacity site on Johnston Street launched in August 2019, COVID-19 hadn’t yet reared its head, but less than 6 months later it was to take over the lives of people globally.
Like many Melbourne breweries and venues now in their second major lockdown, Bodriggy has been doing it tough. Co-founder Pete Walsh told Brews News that this second round was taking its toll, but was optimistic for the future.
“This lockdown has been fairly drastically different in feel to the first one, and that’s filtered down into what that means for us as a business
“At the start of it there was no light at the end of the tunnel, it made it really hard. But we’ve started dropping under that 300 cases per day mark which has been a psychological boost for us.
“That’s coincided with us getting a third of the way through lockdown so morale has lifted week-on-week which is really good.”
Bodriggy during COVID
Like other venues, Bodriggy has been forced to close its bar and restaurant again during the second Melbourne lockdowns, ‘pivoting’ to takeaways.
The brewery has also managed to take advantage of the interest shown by big retailers like Dan Murphy’s and BWS parent company Endeavour Drinks Group, which brought on more than 200 suppliers during the COVID period.
“BWS has been amazing for us, I guess we kind of skipped what would have been a long process getting some shelf space there and that’s helped us a lot – it put two brewers straight back to work,” Walsh said.
Like other businesses, especially those reliant on on-premise trade prior to COVID-19, Bodriggy has had to make some changes.
“It’s been trying to diversify a little bit in regards to what we offer. We’ve condensed, we saw a significant boost every time we had a limited beer, so we’re doing them more often to keep the engagement going and keep the beer flowing.
“We’ve just converted the front of the shop to a takeaway area, we’re doing tacos and takeaway beer.”
Being able to keep some operations going has been helping when it comes to not only getting government assistance, but keeping spirits up.
“We have a few people on JobKeeper at the moment, which has been really good, not from a financial standpoint but in keeping staff engaged and interested and encouraging a little bit of traffic.
“It’s been great for morale, which has been a factor at the moment, trying to manage people’s headspace. This second lockdown did really hit home quite hard for a lot of people.
“So it’s been good to get staff re-engaged and cooking delicious food and making delicious beer. I’ve seen it from a community perspective too that people are appreciative of being able to come down once a week and get some good food and a beer. It breaks the monotony.”
Walsh said that overall government support had been good.
“In theory we’ve got an enormous amount of relief that has kept us above water, I honestly don’t know how much else they could have done.
“We’ve applied for and received a few grants and have 28 staff across our businesses on JobKeeper. It’s been cumbersome applying and maintaining that but all in all its been pretty good.”
One of the silver linings that has come from the COVID-19 crisis is that it has given many businesses a chance to sit back and assess their plans, as well as starting projects, like moving online or renovating their venues.
However Walsh explained there would be a few things he’d do differently if he got a do-over.
“When it first happened we tried to evolve with it and still be in a position where we could generate income but actually I wish we’d forfeited a bit more.
“It was happening quite quick. There were new rules every week and we were trying to tweak things and trade relatively freely, but we ended up doing heaps of work for nothing.
“When it went to 100 people we were trying to split up the rooms and resucture the staff and we were making quite big moves on a daily basis, writing menus, reprinting menus and adjusting on the fly continually. In the end it was fruitless.”
This time round though they were even better prepared, and in fact developed some important parts of the business.
“Comparatively speaking with the pubs, we’ve been in a position where we could sell and move our energy into the wholesale section and we’ve got a relatively healthy piece of growth off the back of that which has generated some positives from the situation.
“The amount of package beer we’ve sold has been really really pleasing and I hope that doesn’t change too much.
“Last year 100 per cent of our focus was on the venue opening and kind of everything inside these walls, and now we’ve kind of spun that on its head completely. Now it’s about everything outside these walls.
“But off the back of it were in a good position to coordinate the venue and wholesale in a grander context.”
The Bodriggy team set up an online shop as soon as COVID-19 hit, which has helped with off-premise sales.
“We’re in the middle of redoing our website and much more emphasis has gone on the online shop as a result of this, which I’m grateful for. If this hadn’t have happened I wouldn’t be putting as much energy into those channels.
“The sales from the online shop were beneficial and we’re sitting on a database of thousands of people that have ordered online, which has opened my eyes up to that market a bit as well, and it’s massively important.
“So we’ll have a much bigger emphasis on trying to grow that.”
The COVID period has also allowed room for planning for the future.
“We’re just shooting for next year pretty much, we will try and rebuild a little bit.
“We’ve still got two bars in the building to open, so it’s been an opportunity for us to focus on some construction stuff, my business partner is a builder so he’s dived right into this and I think as a result we’ll benefit.
“Our goal is to be trading for 100 people by Christmas, that would be amazing but that’s out of our hands.”
Despite the uncertainty, Walsh is optimistic.
“From a consumer point of view my feeling is they will get back to it, Melbourne is such a seasonal city, and that will coincide with it reopening from lockdown.
“Even though recession is emerging, I believe people will prioritise money and spending in relation to socialising and supporting local restaurants and breweries and cafes. We’re confident that once we’re in a state to be safe it will bounce back.
“But we’re coming to terms with the fact this will be part of our life for a little while and being safe and trying to get the best of both worlds.”