Great Change Brewing had only been open for about a year and was gaining momentum when the pandemic hit it and just about every other small business in Kern County.
The Resnik Court baker had a business model focused on serving inside and selling restaurants to the table. Suddenly it wasn’t going to work and it was time to adjust to an unprecedented disruption in modern life – or die.
Great Change turned to canning, which ultimately worked well with the shift of its catering partners to field service and take out, while advancing the brewery’s branding strategy. Government grants and loans have helped payroll and other expenses, so brewery owners now expect to weather the pandemic.
“It lets you focus and it’s part of running a business,” said co-owner Tim Belmont. “You have to find a way to be nimble enough to survive.”
The coronavirus crisis has pulled the rug out from small American businesses, and not all of them have landed on their feet. But many in Kern County did so, some by accident and others with government support. In other cases, it was bold, reflective action that made the difference.
Bakersfield wedding planner Colleen Bauer had learned from her contacts on the East Coast that the tsunami was coming, so she took steps to reposition her business, Fairy Godmother Events.
She learned from mentors how to organize “micro-weddings” and began to organize these and, for corporate clients, virtual events for employees.
It worked: couples still wanted to get married and big companies still had to recognize their workers. The business hasn’t grown and made as much money as it once did, Bauer said, but it was able to continue at a time when others didn’t. Now she has said she is filling her 2022 calendar of events.
“If you sit down and throw a pity party saying, ‘COVID shut down my business’ it will end your business,” she said.
Then there were companies like Taco Bros on downtown 23rd Street. It was well placed with a window to the wheel, but with five employees it was not realizing its full potential as a fresh, attractively priced restaurant offering what was at the time a unique product in Bakersfield: tacos de birria, a Mexican delicacy traditionally reserved for special events like baptisms.
Last summer, the owner took Baylee McCool, a 23-year-old former restaurant waiter with a very personal touch, knowledge of social media and a concern for efficiency, on board. She made a series of operational and marketing changes, and before long, customers from as far away as Los Angeles lined up a block or more.
The restaurant has become an online sensation, now employing more than 20 workers, and plans are underway for a second location in southwest Bakersfield. McCool credits his focus on customer service and his heavy use of Instagram.
“You can have the best food, but that’s actually how you bring it out,” said McCool, now the restaurant’s co-owner. She added that, ironically, the pandemic “helps us a lot”.
OPENING IN ANY WAY
It was a different story for hair salons like Panache A Mark Lamas Salon. The state government twice closed local lounges, costing Empire Drive four months of revenue.
Owner Mark Lamas recalled two key decisions that helped make a difference. One was that he had decided to reopen despite state rules, which meant living in fear that regulators could withdraw his license at any time.
“It was good that they didn’t bother us but it was scary,” he said.
Lamas said he remains grateful for the financial support from the federal and local government that has helped his stylists and kept him up to speed with public services.
The other big step he took was reaching out to salon owners he wasn’t used to talking to. They launched a hashtag on social media, #openoursalons, which brought together former competitors.
“It brought us together,” he said. “If we are all united, we will all be successful.”
Kim Belmont, co-owner of Great Change Brewing with her brother-in-law Tim and two others, said the company’s hard work is finally paying off. Customers she hasn’t seen for a year or more return to the brewery to buy her craft beer.
“It took a lot of perseverance to be able to get things done. I think everything pays off. I think we will be able to get back on track here, hopefully by the summer,” she said. declared.
“I would never have guessed that I would have experienced something like this in my life,” she said. “It’s like something in a movie.”