FARMINGDALE, NY — Beer is still flowing from the taps of Lithology Brewing Company, despite a year as challenging as they come for small business owners. Manny Coelho, who co-founded the Farmingdale watering hole in 2015, has been forced to brew up a series of adjustments to whatever the coronavirus pandemic has thrown his way.
Once outdoor and indoor seating returned in New York’s coronavirus reopening plan, Lithology’s financial situation improved, Coelho said. But while there was an initial surge of traffic to the brewery, the amount of customers has since been inconsistent. Due to COVID-19 and the resulting needs to social distance and wear masks, 2020 business numbers are incomparable to those of 2019.
“There’s days where it’s not that busy and we shouldn’t have that many people on, and we have to send someone home early,” Coelho told Patch. “It seems like we’re struggling a little bit. Then the next day, it’s good. We can’t predict anything anymore. We can’t even look at last year’s numbers or what the trend was last year, because there is no trend right now.”
Currently, the shop’s capacity allows for 30 to 40 people. However, a scorcher or rain-filled day is all but guaranteed to be a bad day for business, Coelho said. Recently, farmers markets in Seaford and Rockville Centre have helped Lithology sell its brews and reach new consumers. Seaford runs Saturdays and Rockville Centre on Sundays; both from 7 a.m. to noon.
Delivery and takeout sales have declined since June, but Coelho said those transactions “definitely” saved the brewery after a state shutdown of in-store service at bars and restaurants went into effect in March. The brewmaster began delivering his wares — something he hadn’t done before — with the help of his niece. Delivery runs are still made on Thursdays through Saturdays, but the volume of orders has decreased. At a time when delivery and takeout were the only options, though, making the adjustment kept the lights on. It also ensured Coelho still made a living.
“Since I’m an owner, and I’m the full-time owner here, this is my only means of income,” Coelho, who’s part of a four-person ownership group, said. “If I wasn’t working, then I don’t know where I would be right now. The deliveries definitely helped with my salary, as well as paying bills.”
Coelho has watched his staff fall from four to zero — excluding himself — and eventually grow to six. The business had to let go a full-time salesperson and bartenders once the COVID-19 restrictions were enacted. Coelho, who was alone, halted brewing production, packaged whatever was in the fermenting room, and sold it. That’s when he hired his niece to help him make deliveries. Once phase two of the state’s reopening launched June 10, he rehired the original staff and added two new employees.
Having successfully navigated the shutdown period, a new series of obstacles has cropped up.
“The biggest challenge is not getting burnt out,” Coelho said. “Every day, we have new rules and new guidelines. The first thing was, ‘How are we going to keep everybody safe?’ How are we going to keep our employees, get them back and feeling comfortable to work here, and to also work for, obviously, less tips, because 50 percent less occupancy means less people here. Less ability for them to make even more money.”
The co-owner expressed gratitude for the personal protective equipment provided by Nassau County and the town of Oyster Bay. With it, Lithology was able to follow state guidelines and keep everyone safe, both staff and customers. Yet, Coelho finds himself having to constantly pivot due to ever-changing guidance from New York officials.
“I’ve been running on, ‘What’s today going to bring?’ I adjust, I move on, we panic for a moment, we calm down, we take a breath, we step back and we look at what we need to do, see whether it’s worth it, then move on. We’re just tired. It feels like anybody who is working is working harder than they’ve ever worked before. Unfortunately, there’s people who just aren’t working. But those who are working or doing double time, triple time.
“As a business owner, you don’t really go home and shut off. It’s just a continuing, ‘not sure what tomorrow’s going to bring us.’ Is tomorrow going to be another shutdown? Am I going to have to get all these people to go home? Send my employees home, and then I’m going to go back to doing everything by myself again just to keep the lights on? We’re not sure.”
The scenario of possibly having to secure another Paycheck Protection Program loan is also in the back of the brewer’s mind. The Lithology ownership corps wouldn’t want to take on a loan it wouldn’t be able to pay off, so options would need to be weighed.
“It turns your passion into just a business,” Coelho said. “It’s all about numbers now, and it’s hard to find something great behind that. I love what I do. I love that I get to make what I’ve loved to do for years. During this pandemic, you’re seeing…you’ve got to still pay bills. Things become about numbers and less about the passion.”
In July, Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated that bar and restaurant patrons must be served food with alcohol. For many bars, it has to be something “substantive,” like a sandwich or soup. As a manufacturer, Lithology has remained able to offer a bag of chips, Coelho said. However, the brewery has still turned to help from fellow Farmingdale merchants.
Le Petit Café, a fellow Main Street business, makes empanadas, pita chips with hummus and specialty donuts crafted with Lithology’s beer for the brewery to sell. Grub from Whiskey Down Diner and Dark Horse Tavern is available at Coelho’s shop. Lithology also collaborated with Main Street Pizza Company during the coronavirus shutdown to offer pizza kits.
Oodles of support has also come from a loyal customer base, which Coelho said means “everything.” Without their support, Lithology might have served its last brewski.
“My message to them is, ‘Thank you. From the bottom of our hearts. From the bottom of our pint.’ From everything, we appreciate them and think about them all the time. We can’t wait until we’re allowed to have more people here, so we can have the big party that we want to have and invite everybody that ordered from us online and kept us going, and give them a pint or two free; on the house — just to hang out with us. We thought that would be sometime now, and it’s not. We’ll keep pushing it. That’s still in the back of our minds, that we’re going to have that party.”
Lithology Brewing is at 211A Main St., Farmingdale. Beer can be ordered off its website.