In Newcastle, if there’s one name above all that evokes craft beer, it’s that of the Grain Store. Located a short stroll from the city’s centre, the bar’s 20-plus taps are dedicated to independent Australian beer and their beer events – including beergustation dinners – are the stuff of legend.
Like many venues across the country, after taking a short break, owners Corey and Kristy Crooks switched to selling takeaway beer, local wine and food and set their staff off delivering wings, hearty pork knuckles and pizza to anyone craving the bar’s food. And on Sundays, you can even enjoy a version of those legendary beergustation at home since they launched the "Sunday 6" – pairing six beers with different courses delivered to your door.
Corey, who launched the Grain Store in 2013 and is one of the country’s most ardent supporters of independent local beer, says he wanted to recreate part of what the venue does well. They've always placed a warm welcome and educating customers about good beer at the heart of what they do and, with the Sunday 6, he hopes to restore a bit of normalcy to everyday life.
“If they can grab this pack on a Sunday they can sit at home and have six bloody good beers,” he says. “Maybe some styles that they wouldn’t chose – and that’s part of what we normally do every day – then we feel like we’re doing something a little bit normal and we can put a positive spin out there for people.”
The concept’s proved popular too, with the first dinner selling out well in advance and people emailing through the week to make sure they don’t miss tomorrow’s BBQ themed instalment.
“On the weekend we almost felt like the Grain Store, the online ordering was buzzing,” Corey says.
He says that, while they’re still operating, it's a very different Grain Store for the moment. Normally the bar is in the business of social gatherings and, currently, only five of the Grain Store’s 21 taps are turned on, while the team is selling packaged beer for the first time.
“You can’t compare to what we were, we’re certainly something different at this point in time,” he says.
“I still wake up each morning going, 'Fuck, is this real?'. Who’d have thought we’d be living in this sort of situation?”
Corey says the downtime they took shortly after venues were shutdown was necessary so they could properly look at how the business could run while government policies like JobKeeper and those relating to commercial leases were still being announced.
“The dust hadn’t settled on it and it was tough being here,” he says. “Trying to listen to that and serve a customer and be positive when, to a certain degree, everything you worked for and the whole world around you felt like it was collapsing.”
Corey says the decision to remain open under a different guise rather than close up and wait until they can open again was taken for multiple reasons, among them maintaining at least make some level of income and keeping loyal customers supplied with their food. But what's most important, he says, is the ability to keep staff on.
“We are all about our culture that we’ve built for seven years and doing what we do and not swaying from our morals and that’s not all me, that’s my staff,” he says, adding that losing long-term staff would mean they'd have lost much of the essence of the business by the time they're able to open again.
“I’m not reopening the Grain Store," he says of such a situation. "It might be called that, but it’s a brand new business. You’ve lost your culture, you’ve lost your soul and all those things.”
You can order the Grain Store's Sunday 6, or anything else from the menu, here.
As part of the #keepinglocalalive campaign we're running Postcards from the Edge stories, highlighting the ways in which people are adapting to survive. If you've got a story you think is suitable – or have something to add to the campaign resources online – get in touch.