This will be the most unusual St. Patrick’s Day celebration for the Shawn & Ed Brewery.
One year after the COVID-19 restrictions came into place in Ontario, bars and breweries still wait for the return to normalcy. Bars were informed by the Ontario government on the afternoon of St. Patrick’s that bars had to close. “We were running our business as if the world was a normal place and this pandemic wasn’t coming,” said Ed Madronich, co-founder/owner of the brewery. “I don’t think anyone saw it coming as fast as it did. Even days before the shutdown, we weren’t thinking there was going to be a shutdown.”
For Ed, it was a no-brainer that indoor service was out. What wasn’t obvious was how to stay in business. “The order came down and we’re like, what are we gonna do as a business. Everything was coming super-fast, so it was really a daily thing, and it was changing daily and that was probably the first two to three months we were just looking at things pivoting and trying to find solutions.” Another potential problem: the employees’ employability in a shutdown. “That was a stress on the organization that I hadn’t realized until probably a week in. One of my staff said ‘Am I going to have a job?’ and it didn’t dawn on me that everybody in the organization was wondering if they were gonna have a job. It was at that point that I paused, stopped and really made a commitment to the team that ‘We’re gonna keep everybody whole. We are going to do our damndest to stay whole’. That commitment really shaped our decision making and actions, because if we didn’t work together to overcome obstacles and take on those challenges, somebody would’ve been affected by that,” said Madronich.
The Shawn & Ed brewery in Dundas has spent the year not just surviving but improving and innovating the business. With the bar out as an option this resulted in a pivot to online sales, curbside pickup/delivery and a market strategy that emphasized the local aspects of the brewery. As regulations were lifted, the patrons came back, even if only 10 people could sit inside at one time. While safety was a concern for everyone, the opportunity to get out and have a beer was enticing for many, according to Ed. “Safety to our customers and staff has been our number one objective. There is not the intimacy that you would normally have…you’re apart, less energy. But there’s a joy to being out. Even with a few people in the building, it just made you feel better. There was a happiness that we were out. It was that ability to be able to go out and do something.”
Even when it seems like things are back to normal, nothing is taken for granted anymore. After all, no one expected the pandemic to drag out and flare up as it did. “It’s come in waves for us. During the summer we could be a bit more open and come fall, a bit less open,” said Ed. “All we can do is treat the situation as it comes.” There’s not been a grand re-opening for the brewery. Nor has there been time to properly showcase the new stone pizza oven installed into the brewery. The oven, something long in the works for the brewery pre-pandemic, is up and running, even if the brewery hasn’t had the time to promote it.
For this year, Shawn and Ed are hosting a St Patrick’s Day virtual comedy night. While it may not have the same vibe as a green beer or Irish karaoke, for Ed, it all comes back to supporting one another in uncertain times.
“In the early days, you saw companies pivot to manufacture PPE or hand sanitizers and we couldn’t do that but we wanted to support our community. We came up with a program called ‘Frontline Friends’ where we bought 25000 beers for our frontline workers. Because that’s what friends do; you buy them a beer!”