Steve Puga, owner of the FOB Taproom, did not get into the hospitality business to fill growlers and send his customers and friends on their way. But the early months of the pandemic left him little choice.
Without a kitchen or even video Lottery machines to fall back on, the FOB had even fewer options than many restaurants, pubs and other watering holes that — at least — could offer take-out food and drinks while the coronavirus forced them to keep their tables empty.
Nowadays, things are looking a little more normal at the FOB — if anything can be considered normal during Covid. The TVs are on, the music is playing. The bar is open — it’s just outdoors.
The outdoor bar, which opens to the taproom via a roll-up door, has been a big hit, Puga says, and it’s something he’s been wanting to do for some time — even before Covid.
“I was born and raised in Portland — don’t hold that against me,” he jokes. “But I wanted to have something like this, an outdoor, two-sided bar. And thankfully, we were able to do get this done in the summertime and have this available for customers.”
The FOB has also taken advantage of the Open Air Canby Recovery Program, an economic development initiative allowing businesses to expand their operations into parking areas and streamlining the process for installing tents and other outdoor coverings.
Puga invested in a 15-by-15-foot tent — with a high-peak roof to increase circulation and airflow.
“I wanted to make sure there was a ton of air going through,” Puga says. “My wife’s a nurse, so we’re really aware of that. We tell people, ‘It’s windy, it’s cool, because we’re trying to keep everybody safe.'”
The months the FOB was limited to growler service only was a difficult time, Puga admits — not just financially, but emotionally — as he watched his normally busy taproom sit still and quiet, day after day.
“As anybody around here can probably relate to, it’s super emotional,” he says. “It’s tough to see your business that you live and die for go through something like this. I feel bad for all of us business owners in town; we’re all kind of in the same boat. You love to see your place active, and good times had by all.”
But on a chilly January afternoon last week, with a half-dozen patrons spaced out in the tent and several others stopping by to fill growlers, Puga is all smiles — even as a light snow begins to fall.
Not exactly a day that makes folks long for a cold beer, Puga admits with a laugh.
“They’re here because they care,” he says. “Every day I’m here, I thank them personally. I love this place, and if it wasn’t for them, we honestly wouldn’t be here. That’s not an exaggeration; it’s absolutely true. It’s been tough, but we appreciate the community support.”