SOUTHWICK – Adapting is the theme of 2021 for many small businesses, including Westfield River Brewing Co.
Owner Sergio Bonavita and his partners and staff have been adapting since last spring when COVID-19 shut down many businesses. Bonavita found ways to forge ahead, from outdoor seating to intimate, socially distant weddings to his latest ventures – a mobile version of the brewery and outdoor firepit seating.
The firepits have really taken off, he said, even in the cold.
“We began operating the fire pits after receiving approval from the Southwick Fire Department in late December. It was an effort to give folks who are tentative about indoor dining an option,” Bonavita said. “They are reservation only as we can’t just have a bunch of people standing around a fire. We have seven socially distanced fire pits and use local cord wood to build natural wood fires. They get pretty hot! We quickly found that everyone loved sitting outside by the fires, not just folks that didn’t want to come inside.”
The firepit option is offered Friday, Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting.
“If we have to cancel due to extreme cold or rain, we email everyone who has booked a reservation and post on all social media platforms. We also block the reservation link so that no further reservations can be made,” said Bonavita.
Westfield River Brewing’s menu expanded at the same time, offering Sunday brunch, complete with Bloody Marys and mimosas.
“We started brunch in late December in an effort to combat the curfew restrictions. We felt that if we weren’t allowed to operate past 9 p.m., then opening up a little earlier on a Sunday would give us the opportunity to recoup the lost revenue,” said Bonavita. “It was and continues to be very challenging on our staff as our kitchen is not set up for breakfast and we lacked the equipment to serve hot beverages. After a substantial investment, we were able to pull it off and our staff has been fantastic. They have been rock stars during the pandemic, constantly forced to change on the fly to accommodate the ever-changing restrictions. The brunch and daily menus change weekly and are available on our website. “
The Mobile Beer Truck and Bar is another way WRB has expanded its offerings. Beginning this spring, the truck will be available to travel for parties, such as weddings or corporate events
Bonavita said these new offerings have helped keep the brewery in business. As COVID restriction ease, he is not sure what he will keep and what will go as the country returns to “normal.”
“What we will do is look at what we are allowed to do and adapt to it,” he said. “We have a wonderful site, a fantastic staff and a crazy owner who loves to challenge his people! The town of Southwick has been exceptional to work with and our customers are also fantastic — they understand that we follow all guidelines and that we are a safe place to go out to, but also a place that is trying hard to provide a slice of ‘normalcy.’ I think it is our job to be as creative as possible, especially during COVID.”
As the country approaches the one-year mark since the first positive COVID-19 cases were detected here, Bonavita reflected on how it affected his business.
“The brewery obviously took a massive financial hit in 2020. But again, our staff was amazing — during the lockdown in spring they came to work every day to help sell cans to go and take-out food,” he said. “They never complained about seeing customers and genuinely wanted to be here. Because of that, it allowed me to focus on increasing our cans sales and we are really excited to have hired two sales reps this year and began distributing our beer again. Hopefully that segment of the business will continue to grow to make up for the loss of revenue due to lost taproom sales, concerts and weddings.”
When asked if Bonavita had any other thoughts on COVID, he had just one: “Get the vaccines figured out.”
Westfield River Brewing, 707 College Highway, Southwick, is currently open Friday from 4-9 p.m., Saturday from 12-9 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Visit the WRB Facebook page and website for updated hours and menus.