Clint Stromberg’s story is an example of the American Dream come true. In the 1980s, Stromberg opened the first craft brewery in San Diego County: Bolt Brewery. Back then, craft brewing wasn’t the industry it is today, where you can find a few dozen in every town. Small-batch local brews were relatively few and far between.
After taking a break from running the business so that he could do some traveling, Clint joined with Molly Rust to re-open the brewery in 2014, and then expanded with a tasting room in Little Italy, California, just a few blocks from the bay, featuring a full kitchen and a dog-friendly patio.
And then in 2020, well, you know where this story is going: the pandemic.
2020 was a day of reckoning for small businesses. Some went under, some made it by the skin of their teeth, and some adapted quite well. Bolt Brewery was one of the small businesses that adapted quite well.
Bars, cafes, diners, and tasting rooms were hit pretty hard by the pandemic. Fast food, take-out, delivery, these are things we may enjoy in our cars or at home. But you don’t go to a bar and ask for one “to go.” The social environment is a big part of the appeal of these establishments, and that’s exactly what the pandemic put the squeeze on first.
The restrictions that small businesses had to work with were tricky. Outdoor dining, social distancing. This made it very difficult to do much business if your business depended on people wanting to sit around a table with friends and hang out somewhere besides the living room.
Many businesses had to adapt to outdoor dining in a hurry. No problem if you already have a backyard area with a seven-foot brick wall to block the wind. But for many businesses, there wasn’t much they could do but put some patio furniture out on the sidewalk and hope for the best. And let’s be honest, no matter how nicely you dress up the patio furniture, eating on the sidewalk feels like you’re eating on the sidewalk. You might as well just go back to your car and eat in there.
But what was there to be done? Building an outdoor enclosure would take more resources than most small businesses have. If you have the land for it in the first place, you need to worry about permits, and you have to wonder if you’re spending a lot of money on something that won’t even be of much use a year from now.
For Bolt Brewery, the solution came in the form of a shipping container.
Restaurant Shipping Containers
You’ve probably seen those fun little hipster bars in places like Austin and San Francisco that are built inside of custom shipping containers. That’s not quite what Bolt Brewery was doing.
What Bolt Brewery did was essentially move their whole dining room outdoors with a partially enclosed shipping container. Big enough to block the wind, but small enough to pack up and move should it become unnecessary when this whole thing is finally over.
The enclosure does everything a big patio or enclosed outdoor area would do, providing shelter from the wind and rain and sun. But setting up a custom container-based enclosure from Aztec Containers is cheaper than building an outdoor dining area, you don’t need a permit, you don’t need to own a plot of land where you’re setting it up, and you can tear it down just as easily as you popped it up.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and in the small business communities across the country, we can see the ingenuity of the American people hard at work. No matter how dire things may seem, we always find a way to persevere.
Bolt Brewery has long been a landmark of the San Diego dining scene, and thanks to this simple, savvy, clever use of a custom shipping container, they stand to be a landmark of the San Diego dining scene for many years to come.