You might expect pretzels and nuts with beer, but Coltivare’s parmesan and black pepper penne? 

That’s what you can get New Magnolia Brewing Co in the Heights. There, and at other breweries and bars across Houston, operators have been creative in ensuring they’re selling enough food to stay open during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

First, some context: In mid-May, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that bars and breweries could reopen with capacity limits, but after seeing spikes in positive Covid-19 tests, the governor in late-June ordered all of those establishments to close. That move seemed to doom many bars and breweries across the city as to-go sales—which were still permitted—dropped precipitously for many businesses.

Then on July 30, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission released new guidance that allowed businesses known for beverage consumption to open for visiting customers after securing a food and beverage license, meaning at least 51 percent of sales would have to come from food purchases. To put it bluntly: Sell more food than booze and you’re good to go.

Slowly, breweries and bars reopened, armed with their fresh food and beverage licenses. With that came a plethora of new food menus, plus ways to sneak grub into common beer purchases.

For instance, Eureka Heights came back with a $6 deal of a 16-ounce beer and bag of chips; by combining the two items into one order they can set the price of the chips in a way that helps reach the necessary ratio. They also gave pop-up Yong Street Food a permanent daily spot at the taproom to further ensure the ratio was being hit. Down the block, La Macro food truck has been a regular at Drift Bar, which also has been hosting a steak night on Thursdays. Other bars bring in food trucks and established names while asking patrons to buy food with their drink purchases. Bars also sell bags of chips and popcorn to go with each beverage, lowering the beverage price so that the customer is paying the same as usual, but there's food included in the receipt.

At New Magnolia, your beer also comes with a bag of chips (plus your pint glass). To further bring up those food sales, co-founder Shayn Robinson, through a family connection, turned to Agricole Hospitality, which owns establishments like the neighborhood’s Coltivare and Eight Row Flint. That led to New Magnolia selling Coltivare heat-and-eat pasta dishes—parmesan and black pepper penne with chicken and chile-glazed chicken with summer Italian vegetables—at the brewery.

Through Agricole, Robinson also met with Ben McPherson of BOH Pasta & Pizza. Now BOH's four-cheese, pepperoni, and fennel and sausage pies are available as well. A taproom employee tops the pre-made dough and puts the pie through a small oven; the quality remains pretty high.

“We’ve been killing it with both offerings,” says Robinson, who opted against using food trucks because “it’s a roll of the dice … if that food truck doesn’t show up Wednesday at 3 p.m., you can’t serve on premises.”

Up in Garden Oaks, Walking Stick Brewing Co, which, like New Magnolia, gets a lot of business from the taproom, secured its food and beverage license in late-August. Its plan was to keep a regular rotating food truck schedule while adding locally made bagel sandwiches through a relationship with Golden Bagels.

“I always had this interest in New York-style bagels,” says Walking Stick owner Andy Dunn. “It isn’t something available in Garden Oaks, and I identified Golden Bagels, who is one of the only good New York-style bagel spots in the city. I thought it was a good fit.”

Golden delivers bagels, meats, cheeses, vegetables, and spreads to Walking Stick. When a bagel sandwich (like turkey pastrami, beef pastrami, Swiss, and sauerkraut on pumpernickel) is ordered, the Walking Stick staff assemble the item. The sandwich business is branded as Twiggy’s Brew Bites, open on weekday afternoons with more hours to be added. Food trucks fill other time slots throughout the week.

“We don’t make (buying food) a requirement,” says Dunn, who adds that the brewery and beer garden has become a natural community gathering spot. “We see the balance naturally, and frankly the clientele we have and have had historically is always pretty balanced. They’re eating and drinking in a balanced way.”

That balance is appreciated now more than ever.

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