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Dust Bowl permanently closes downtown taproom
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Brett Tate and Brett Honore pour some beer at the downtown Dust Bowl Tap Room’s opening night on Aug. 2, 2011. Turlockers lined up out the door in hopes of tasting one of Dust Bowl’s 11 house brews on tap, ranging from buckwheat ale to dopplebock and the brewery’s renowned Hops of Wrath India Pale Ale on that opening night (Journal file photo).

After nearly a decade of serving up award-winning brews on Main Street, Dust Bowl Brewing Co. announced on Monday that its Downtown Taproom is closing permanently.

The closure comes just over three months after the taproom closed its doors in mid-March amid COVID-19 restrictions, which shutdown all nonessential businesses — including brew pubs — to curb the spread of coronavirus. Dust Bowl founder and co-owner Brett Tate said the decision to close the company’s smaller, downtown taproom was a hard one to make.

According to Tate, the ramifications of the COVID-19 shutdown forced ownership to reevaluate Dust Bowl’s entire business model. Businesses that have been allowed to reopen in recent weeks still must abide by numerous health guidelines, such as eateries like Dust Bowl that must now adjust their building’s occupancy to ensure social distancing to the maximum extent possible.

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Dust Bowl Brewing Co. announced that its Downtown Taproom will not reopen after closing during the coronavirus shutdown (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

Reopening such a small space under these guidelines would be difficult, Tate said. These complications combined with increasing rates on the taproom’s space, which was up for a new lease, helped contribute to the decision.

“We are still navigating the impact of the recent closures and limitations placed on our taprooms and distribution channels. Although we, along with many locals, will miss our downtown location, we believe we can better serve our business needs and our community of craft beer fans by focusing on one location in our hometown,” Tate said. “We will always be grateful for the Downtown Taproom and our loyal downtown customers. It was a true catalyst to our business and helped to establish craft beer culture in the Central Valley.”

Tate and co-owner Brett Honoré cemented themselves as pioneers of the Central Valley’s craft beer scene when Dust Bowl’s Downtown Taproom opened its doors on Aug. 2, 2011. The location played an integral role in the resurgence of the downtown core, which had been hit hard by the economic downturn of the mid-2000s. Since then, the space has served as a community watering hole of sorts, where families and friends from Turlock and surrounding towns have gathered to enjoy birthday parties, sporting events and plenty of beer.

While it may be the end of the road for Dust Bowl’s downtown location, the company is still thriving through its new Brewery Taproom on Fulkerth Road, the Tap Depot in Monterey which opened last summer and retail beer sales in five different states.

According to Honoré, the decision to close the Downtown Taproom has allowed the company to hone its focus on their larger, primary location on Fulkerth. Most of the staff from the downtown location are now working at the Brewery Taproom after it recently reopened, including the chefs, and many favorites from the downtown menu have made their way across town.

“We’re trying to see the silver lining in all the recent challenges,” Honoré said.

During the Brewery Taproom’s closure, significant investments were made so that visitors can indulge safely, including 20 new tap lines in the Beer Garden to accommodate more outdoor guests, as well as a food trailer to create a separate “restaurant” for the space. Large trees, additional seating and layout changes have also been put in place to create more usable space for guests, with more plans in the works.

This week, “Music Thursdays” will kick off from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in the outdoor Beer Garden.

“Having all overhead and resources – staff, supplies, ingredients and beer – in one central location helps us be more efficient and ensures our long-term viability. Plus, our Fulkerth property really provides a great opportunity for us to evolve as a craft beer destination for locals and beer fans alike. We have the perfect location to increase beer tourism, which is an essential part of building our brand and it’s great for the local economy as well,” Honoré said.