Miel Brewery & Taproom open its doors in 2018 , just a few years before the pandemic hit. As the pandemic affected all businesses, being a small and new business had its own set of unique challenges. However, co-owners Janice Montoya and Alex Peyroux were able to adapt to the every changing climate and maintain operations. We reached out to Janice and Alex to talk about how they got started in owning their own business, what they did differently during the pandemic, and advice they have for other business owners.
What inspired you to partner together and open Miel?
Alex finished the Master Brewers Program at Siebel Institute of Technology and has worked in large breweries like Abita Brewing Company and Harpoon Brewing Company. Janice graduated Southeastern Louisiana University with a degree in New Media and Animation and worked as a Digital Producer at Allen & Gerritsen in Boston, MA. In 2015, the laws in Louisiana changed and allowed manufacturing breweries to sell beer to the public through a taproom for the first time. We saw the beer and taproom culture in Boston taking off and realized that our home city of New Orleans would not be far behind. We felt that we could combine our experience and successfully bring something wholly unique to the craft beer scene in New Orleans.
You picked a name that represents both your cultures and a key ingredient in your beers. Can you share the story behind that decision?
Of course! The Peyroux family immigrated from France to New Orleans in the 1700’s and the Montoya family came to New Orleans from Honduras in the 1980’s. Since Miel means honey in both French and Spanish, we loved the idea that the word bridged the gap between the two languages and that we wouldn’t have to settle on just a Spanish or French word. We also like how the blending of the two languages and cultures also reflect in New Orleans’ traditions and architecture as an extra homage to where we started. The main reason we chose honey is because Alex’s father Dale has taken up beekeeping as a retirement hobby out in Amite, Louisiana. Dale would often send us pounds of fresh honey that we decided to start incorporating into the beers themselves. We don’t like to harvest honey too often from the bees, but we love the extra complexity that raw local honey can lend to some beers.
As a brewery and taproom, how did the pandemic affect your business?
Unfortunately, the pandemic has definitely thrown us for a bit of a loop. Our normal operations at Miel Brewery & Taproom focus heavily on events, pop-ups, and private gatherings at our taproom. Since we fall under the bar category within the COVID restrictions, we have had to adapt by selling to-go 32 ounce Crowlers of our beers on draft. Thankfully, we were able to maintain operations with the income from the to-go sales. We have since expanded our brewery capacity and purchased a canning machine that allows us to sell 16 ounce and 12 ounce cans of beer in 4 packs. Now that our beer garden is open again with mask requirements and social distancing, we are slowly but surely returning to normal. On the production side of the brewery, we reduced the amount of beer made by half and are currently dealing with an aluminum can shortage as an industry. Cans have been harder to source in the recent months and maybe won’t become as available as they used to be until 2022.
What were some of the changes you made to rebuild your success after you opened back up?
Once we were able to open the beer garden again safely, we immediately brought back food pop-ups. This pandemic has taken an unbelievable toll on the food pop-ups since most bars were closed and festivals were cancelled. We are happy to do what we can to help our food partners get back to serving food again. We take this pandemic seriously and took the time over the summer to install hands-free fixtures in the bathrooms, implement socially distant service, and provide our team with masks and cleaning supplies to keep the space clean and safe. Our focus on crowd control and cleanliness has helped our team stay safe and we believe that our guests recognize that when they come to Miel.
Part of your mission is to be environmentally friendly, what are some of the green initiatives you’ve taken as a company?
This year has been a challenge in regards to keeping our operations environmentally friendly. Disposable masks and gloves have become the new normal; as have plastic go cups in most establishments. In order to try and curtail our waste while also maintaining safety, we are using compostable cups for our to-go cups, paper bags for pick-up orders, cloth reusable masks, and even noodles instead of straws for our beer slushees. As life becomes normal, we are looking forward to finding new ways to eliminate one-time use items.
What advice do you have for those looking to start a business, especially during this time?
We think that the best advice for today is to have a self-starter attitude and be flexible and adaptable about your business. When we opened, we didn’t think that we would ever be relying on an online store to sell beer, but, early on, Janice was able to quickly migrate our normal operations to an online store and that absolutely saved our business. Since the pandemic started, we have been adapting to the new restrictions quickly and keeping up clear communications and dialog with our guests through social media. It seems overwhelming at times and running a business during this time is not easy, but it has been worth it to see that the work we are putting in has let us expand and stay busy.
Any upcoming or recent news that we should know about?
We are releasing new beer in 4-packs almost weekly now, so follow us on Instagram and Facebook to see what is coming out next! We’re also excited to announce that we now host Mammoth Espresso at Miel on Friday, Saturday, and Sundays from 10am-4pm. It’s been really nice to open up the beer garden earlier and see people from our neighborhood enjoy a delicious cup of espresso.
Can you tell us what hospitality and tourism means to you and why it’s important for the city?
Craft Beer and breweries are a huge attraction for tourists and we would often host guests from all over the country and world at Miel. We have felt the impact of that tourism loss through the last year, but we are optimistic that tourism will return in a big way once life begins to normalize.