BARTOW -- When Johnnie Levin reflects on the path Front Page Brewing has traveled since its grand opening last month, she can’t help but marvel at how unique that journey has been.
Front Page Brewing Co., located at 190 S. Florida Avenue in downtown Bartow, held its grand opening on March 14. The building, formerly the home of the Polk County Democrat — now the Polk News-Sun — was packed with locals wanting to try out the first microbrewery to come to the county seat.
Two days later, Levin — the co-founder and owner of the new brewery — announced via Front Page’s Facebook page that it would be joining other establishments that were proactively closing as a safety precaution as the extent and scope of the coronavirus pandemic became more clear.
A day after that, on March 17, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all bars closed across the state.
It could have been cripplign to a business that had just opened, but that was not the end of this startup’s story.
Originally announced on March 19, on March 26 Front Page began selling to-go 32-ounce crowlers of its brews. It has been doing so since and having success, at one point nearly running out of the crowlers in which to put the beer and also adding online sales.
And so, for a business that has been open for just a month-and-a-half, it’s been quite a ride.
“What’s been really unusual about this whole thing is we didn’t get to experience a regular, normal operation of business — we only got that for two days,” Levin said. “We’ve been doing this to-go sale process a whole lot longer and this has been our normal.”
Levin said she and her staff have been overwhelmed by the support of the Bartow community, saying they could not have picked a better place to locate their business.
“We’re very grateful that the community has shifted with us,” Levin said. “We weren’t open long enough to start having regulars — but we have regulars. We have people who routinely come in (to pick up to-go crowlers).”
Levin decided to get into the craft brewing industry after a long career as a corporate trainer, co-founding Front Page with her husband, Bill Levin. As things slowly return to normal, she said she hopes one day to see her vision fulfilled of the brewery serving as a community gathering place.
In the meantime, she says she has been incredibly appreciative of her staff. Front Page has not had to lay anyone off due to the pandemic, she says, and recently she has utilized the brewery’s Facebook page to introduce the staff to the community on a one-by-one basis.
“We wanted to do that anyway, but we feel now it’s more important than ever because (the community) may not know the faces behind who is pouring and getting their beer ready,” Levin said. “We want people to know that we still have staff here.”
In recent days, sales of the to-go crowlers have continued to be strong and some patrons are even purchasing crowlers and donating them to first responders and other front line workers serving the community during the pandemic.
And while it’s not the beginning of a new business that anyone could have imagine, it has been uplifting in its own unique way.
“The community has been absolutely supportive,” Levin said. “It’s been overwhelming. We’re very grateful.”