For months, the taproom of Goldfinger Brewing Company was filled with empty tables and silence in place of the clinking glasses and communal chatter that Tom Beckmann hoped for when he decided to revive the “family business” of brewing.
COVID-19 restrictions already were in place, but Beckmann was too far along not to open, he said. Now, almost a year later, Goldfinger, like many other Downers Grove businesses, is still standing, and the community is largely to thank.
“There are more than 150 restaurants in Downers Grove, and I’m only aware of two that closed permanently in 2020,” said Mike Cassa, president of the Downers Grove Economic Development Corp. “The fact that virtually every restaurant in Downers Grove is still open is absolutely astounding to me. The community rallied.”
Cassa said the biggest challenge for many restaurant owners was the constant change. Outdoor dining came and went with the weather, and indoor restrictions seemed to be changing all the time. Interiors had to be retrofitted, tents were purchased, and then plans changed.
Goldfinger Brewing Company, 513 Rogers St., was inspired by European beer halls, Beckmann said, where people gather to clink glass with strangers and become fast friends. With social distancing in place, that atmosphere would be hard to achieve, so Goldfinger began canning and distributing beer much sooner than expected.
“Delivering and packaging beer was fundamental for us to stay open,” Beckmann said. “During the cold months, that kept us afloat and kept our staff employed because they wanted to help us grow in any way we could.”
Beckmann said roles were adjusted frequently among staffers who might be serving beer one day and delivering it for distribution the next day. With that flexibility, no one on his staff had to be furloughed despite the difficult times.
Outdoors, Beckmann said he began to see his community brewery vision come to life as neighbors would walk to the beer garden, sometimes defying colder temperatures. He said the business quickly found regulars whom he and his staff already consider friends.
“It was amazing to see friends who couldn’t share a table come out and sit 6 feet apart to have a beer and talk from a distance,” Beckmann said. “We knew Downers Grove would be small-business oriented when we signed the lease [in September 2019] but we didn’t know it would be to this scale of support.”
Some of that support, which was felt throughout the business community in Downers Grove, was bolstered by efforts from the Economic Development Corp. and the village. One campaign, Dine DG Take Home for the Holidays, saw great success, Cassa said.
The program promoted takeout dining during the holiday season, when restaurants could not make use of outdoor seating. Throughout the campaign, 1,303 members of the Facebook group promoted it with 597 posts, Cassa said.
“The community rallied around our restaurants,” Cassa said. “It was really heartening to see the community work to see restaurant [owners] succeed in spite of these tremendous challenges.”
With restrictions slowly loosening, Goldfinger, like many other local places to eat and drink, is cautiously entering into a new phase of excitement with limited indoor dining available once again, Beckmann said.
Mugs are clinking, lagers are being poured and laughter is finally filling the taproom of Goldfinger Brewing Company, with the communal atmosphere Beckmann dreamed of slowly becoming a reality. When patrons enter, floral aromas and thick foam caps captivate, Beckmann said, and in spite of social distancing, a communal buzz fills the air.
“The pandemic be damned,” Beckmann said. “This is the exact feel we hoped to establish, and, with the help of the community, we have. It’s a room filled with happiness.”