Raising a glass at one Mobile brewery as it reopens during COVID-19

May 13, 2020

An Alabama Public Radio news feature, which is part of APR effort to address the "news desert" along the state's Gulf coast. APR recruited and trained veteran print journalists in Mobile and Baldwin counties to join our news team to do radio stories from along the Gulf coast.

Alabama restaurants, hair salons, and fitness center are getting back to normal. Gov. Kay Ivey allowed certain close contact businesses to start taking customers Monday night. Customers will have to maintain social distancing, and each establishment needs to be disinfected.

A Mobile brewery welcomed back its first customers in a week.

The handmade sign on the front door of the Iron Hand Brewing Company in downtown Mobile says it all: “Welcome Back."

Owner Ben Ross said he had a plan in place to safely serve a limited amount of customers when Ivey announced his doors could open Monday night at 5 p.m.

“We went out and got the hand sanitizer station, and moved the tables apart and one of our servers made face masks for all the servers to wear," Ross said.

He thought it would be the end of the week before anybody saw his welcome sign.

Iron hand brewery
Credit Iron Hand Brewery

“We’re ready to engage in the social distancing and welcome people back,” Ross said.

Iron Hand Brewery has been getting by with curbside service and delivery options since the taproom closed in early March due to quarantine rules. But he said there’s nothing like having patrons in his renovated historic space.

“They did a great job. They’ve got everything spaced out and super-clean. Always great service, always great food and great beer,” Jack Scarbrough said.

He's no stranger at Iron Hand Brewing. He’s been ordering takeout up to now.

“Oh my gosh, I can’t tell you how good it feels just to sit on a barstool, it’s amazing,” said Christy Watts, a friend of Scarbrough's. 

“It’s nice to not have to get my own beer, somebody’s bringing me a beer, it’s beautiful,” Scarbrough said.

He said his visit as Iron Hand reopened will be his first stop to support their favorite local businesses. He’s confident in their own efforts to stay safe from the coronavirus.

Credit Pixabay

“We’ve already got tomorrow evening planned," he said, "going to see a lot of bar and restaurant friends.”

“I do think it’s a personal choice,” Sandy Watts said.

As much as she likes the pizza and beer, she raises a basic economic point.

“If people aren’t comfortable, restaurants will continue to do take-out and delivery. I think, you do what’s comfortable for you. I carry my own sanitizer, so we’re good," she said.

But, Watts plans to accompany Scarbrough as he makes the rounds to favorites bars and restaurants.

“If you wash your hands and don’t touch your face, you’ll be fine,” Scarbrough said.

Ivey’s “Safer at Home” guidelines do ease some limitations. Still, the state mandates that customers like Scarbrough and Watts limit groups to 10 or fewer. They also have to maintain 6-foot social distancing. Ross points out how his staff wipes down each table as each group moves on.

Credit Pixabay

“I think that even in our limited capacity, we’re looking at less social interaction than, say, Lowes,” he said.

Ross said if the State’s stay at home order had lasted a few weeks longer, his brewery might not have survived.

“I’m less concerned about us being a hot-spot transmission point than I would be about some of the big box stores where you can’t walk down an aisle without practically bumping into somebody,” he said.

That doesn’t mean that Ross isn’t hoping to bump into more customers as Iron Hand Brewery gets back to normal.