On a sweltering day in August, Jason Alfonsi, co-owner of One Lake Brewing, 1 Lake St in Oak Park, started thinking ahead to the next phase of outdoor dining. He anticipated acquiring heaters for the brewery’s rooftop deck would be the next COVID-19 related hurdle the restaurant would face.
“We went online looking for heaters and found most places were already sold out or experiencing shipping delays,” said Jason’s wife and One Lake co-owner, Kristen Alfonsi. “So, we hedged our bets and placed larger orders from three companies.”
Since businesses could not guarantee their ability to fill an order for 10 propane heaters, the Alfonsi’s placed an order for 30 heaters in hopes of getting the 10 they needed to adequately heat the roof deck. The couple even made a friendly wager on which heaters would actually arrive in Oak Park.
And then heaters started arriving.
Day after day the Alfonsi’s would find anywhere from one to three heaters packaged in enormous boxes waiting on their front porch. Despite the long odds all 30 heaters arrived.
“It was just hilarious,” laughed Alfonsi. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do with all these heaters?’”
With a garage full of heaters, the Alfonsi’s offered the excess at cost to Exit Strategy in Forest Park, Flapjack Brewing in Berwyn, Kinslahgher and Oak Park Brewing in Oak Park, Armand’s Pizza in Elmhurst and George Street Pub in Chicago. Ultimately Exit Strategy took eight heaters, while Oak Park Brewing took three, Armand’s took two, and George Street Pub took the remainder.
“I don’t know what restaurants are going to do if they wait to the last second,” said Alfonsi. “I know some places can’t afford to think ahead right now.”
The same heaters One Lake purchased in August for $300 were selling for $1,200 just a few weeks later according to Alfonsi. Today, even that is not an option — the same heaters are now only available used for $750.
One Lake’s accidental heater hoarding added a bit of levity to the “COVID craziness” facing the business. The Alfonsi’s enjoy seeing their overflow heaters warming up patios around town.
“We are all pretty good friends in the brewing community,” said Oak Park Brewing owner, Jim Cozzens. “We are always looking for ways to help each other out.”
Whether sharing crowler cans, trading hops or loaning label makers, Alfonsi confirms behind the scenes cooperation is key in the brewery business.
“Ending up with so many heaters was an accident,” said Alfonsi, “but it felt good to help out our brewing community.”