One of the main reasons Longmont’s Pumphouse Brewery and its sister establishment, The Red Zone, were able to survive nearly two months without a liquor license was the outpouring of support it received from faithful customers who continued dining there despite its dry status.
Due to a managerial oversight, the establishment failed to renew its liquor license and was forced to cease sales of alcohol Jan. 2 and apply for an entirely new license. It regained its license and returned to normal operations on Feb. 21.
Unfortunate as it was, there was one unexpected, heartwarming effect of the debacle: the fidelity of regular customers. The mishap was toughest on employees, who lost shifts and tips as the hours of operation, volume of customers and sales averages withered during the 50-day period. The substantial base of devoted patrons came in for food, even though it was their only option, to support the staff struggling with temporarily slashed incomes.
Dan Friend, a customer since the Pumphouse opened in 1996, is one such customer.
“This place is my home,” says Friend, a greyhaired man whose voice is a touch raspy, perhaps from years of cheering his teams on at the Red Zone. When asked why the Pumphouse is so special to him, he just grins ear to ear as he shrugs and throws his hands up. “It’s a sports bar!” he laughs. “All my friends come in here ... and they’re all my friends,” he adds, nodding at the men behind the counter.
Friend visited the restaurant every day during the dry period to order food.
The Pumphouse and attached Red Zone sports bar normally attribute about half of their revenue to alcohol sales and half to food sales. Cutting alcohol out of the equation not only deterred much of the Pumphouse’s non-regular business, but significantly reduced the tabs of those who still came in.
To accommodate their regulars and recoup some revenue, the Red Zone hosted a Super Bowl event in which Left Hand Brewery visited and poured their own beers.
“All proceeds went to their flood relief charity ... so we had a packed house, but not necessarily an increase in sales — people were enjoying appetizers and meals. It was a good scene, it showed local support,” said Floor Manager Noah Kaufman.
Since waitstaff depend on total revenue to make tips, the loss of alcohol had a detrimental effect on their income.
Brnet Arbuckle who has worked at the Pumphouse for nearly ten years went from working as a fulltime bartender to a part-time server during the dry period. He picked up additional hours at his brother’s welding shop in Lafayette to make ends meet, he says.
“We have a deep loyalty. It’s like a family-like atmosphere,” says Arbuckle, who met his wife of three years working at the Pumphouse. “The place has always taken really good care of me. I work for Ross, and that’s why I’m here, because he’s a great boss,” Arbuckle says of general manager and owning partner Ross Hagen.
Arbuckle is one of several staff who express generally forgiving sentiments towards the management.
Even so, Hagen is visibly distraught over the ordeal. He fidgets while discussing the matter, looks down and speaks soberly.
“They’re loyal, but their hours are being cut, their sales averages are being cut, so they took the biggest hit,” he says of the staff. “The business took a big hit too, but it’s our fault, so no one is going to feel bad for the business.”
Thanks to the restaurant’s loyal customers, perhaps now things can get back to normal.