Chris Enegren started brewing beer in his college dorm room at Loyola Marymount University, but as he quickly outgrew his friend’s on-campus apartment stove, he knew he needed something bigger. After a year of brewing stove to stove, his fellow Lacrosse teammate Joe Nascenzi offered his backyard and garage. The rest is history, and in 2010 Chris, his brother Matt, and Joe co-founded Enegren Brewing Company with the goal of making handcrafted German lagers and ales for the people of Ventura County and beyond to enjoy. However, like so many other small business owners, his company has been affected by the COVID guidelines and shutdowns.
As a member of the Moorpark City Council since 2018, Enegren is no stranger to how policies are made, but he expressed confusion over the seeming inconsistencies between his beer tasting room requiring food purchase while nearby wineries were allowed to sell alcohol without the need for their customers to buy food.
“Explain the difference between the fermentable sugar sources that make wine safer to drink without food,” he asked Dr. Robert Levin, health director of Ventura County. According to Ventura County health officials, the brewery needs to serve “a complete meal” in order to be able to serve beer with it; this excludes items like tacos, salads, or charcuterie boards counting toward purchase. But without a working food service kitchen, Enegren had to get creative by selling food tickets to a nearby food truck in conjunction with their sale of lagers and ales.
When he asked the local county officials about the discrepancy, he did not receive a clear answer. “People who have never run a business are telling everyone else how to run their businesses,” stated Enegren. “There are some gaping holes in the logic of these policies and guidelines.”
With the new round of shutdowns came new challenges Enegren and his partners had to overcome in order to keep their business viable. One such challenge is overcoming the loss of revenue, not just from the shutdowns, but also from missing out on key events throughout the year that they depend on: the Spring Festival, their anniversary celebration, and Oktoberfest. Without the revenue from these major events, they have had a considerable downturn in their profitability.
“We were on an upward trend starting about five years ago when we expanded our brewery in 2015. Right when COVID hit, we exploded…but now we’re missing out on three of our most important events.”
Enegren considers himself fortunate, however, because his biergarten shares a large outdoor space in Moorpark with Lucas Cellars Winery, Fire and Vice restaurant, California Coffee Republic, and The Craft House 805. “We are consistent in asking our customers to wear masks. We explain that the difference between wearing a mask or not is whether we get to keep our jobs or not. Most people are very understanding,” added Enegren.
In order to adapt to the current COVID climate, the brewery has shifted focus to canning their lagers and selling them online, at local grocery stores, and on-site at their brewery. They have also shifted into partnership with local food trucks so that they can keep their tasting room open. With expanded offerings that include things like “Weekend Beer Yoga,” a once-a-week session on Sundays for $20 with a free beer at the end, the Enegren Brewing Company hopes to attract locals to support their business.
Coming back to his sense of frustration, Enegren added, “As an elected official, you have to put rules out there that the public is going to buy into. No one will listen to you if your rules don’t make sense.” Currently, the Ventura County guidelines for breweries and wineries are more strict than the general statewide guidelines.