The beer garden at Enegren Brewing Company once bustled with patrons. Chris Enegren, owner of the business, enjoyed strolling through the outdoor area, striking up conversations with his customers. The atmosphere was alive.
That atmosphere ended on Saint Patrick’s Day 2020, the last normal day of business for the brewery. Like nearly all other Ventura County business owners, Enegren readily agreed to shut down for two weeks. Now “we’re still doing the ‘two weeks to slow the spread,’” remarks Enegren, who has not operated at full capacity since then.
Enegren founded his brewery in Moorpark in 2011, producing a distinctive German-style lager and other Bavarian-influenced drinks. The beer maker counts 20 employees, including bar staff and brewers, and has run mostly debt-free. Then ambiguous, fast-changing rules essentially wrecked the local business environment.
“We kept eating into our reserves,” says Enegren. “[The grants and Cares Act money] does something, but really not a lot … This has been too long. We can’t run a business forever like this … [and] just watch this whole thing crumble apart, lose my job and then be on the streets just because someone has an arbitrary rule to put out there about outdoor dining being a problem. … It’s insanely frustrating.”
Many business owners like Enegren have reached the point of losing their business under the County’s heavy hand. They also are beginning to press County officials with a simple question: “What is the law that we’re all breaking?”
“I feel like we’re all being bullied into compliance” by health supervisors who scare businesses into obedience but never explain the rules or prove them to be scientific, Enegren says.
All the while, County officials and government employees live securely with pensions, job security, and income.
“[They’re] still racking [their] paycheck every single day. The toughest part to me is that the most stable job in America right now is being in the government,” Enegren says. “That is not a good thing.”
He points to the conspicuous raise and nearly $400,000 annual contract that public health official Robert Levin just received from Ventura County supervisors. Enegren describes the recent day when one of his employees came up to him with an article about Levin’s raise on his phone and said, “Dude, check this out.” It seemed to add insult to injury.
“That’s like someone telling you there’s a food shortage, but then they’re stuffing their faces,” Enegren says. He has emailed County supervisors many times and received either no response or one demonstrating a lack of willingness to protect businesses from destruction. Politicians need to take the lead to protect the County’s economy, he says.
“It’s not time for the political game; gutless leadership isn’t working anymore,” he says. “Half [the leaders] think that they’re doing the world a favor … the other half, I think, just have no guts.”
Enegren is a Moorpark City Council member and, as a business owner, can “see things other people just don’t know how to see. … Most of these people have never run a business in their lives, so they just don’t understand.”
His advice for dealing with COVID is to help people who are really at risk and let those who are younger and healthier work and keep the economy going. Otherwise, he says, the gap of trust between the government and the private sector will widen.
“When you tell [someone] basically that they can’t run that business that they have every constitutional right to run, and they’re making you essentially close down, and it’s not a law … if I’m going to go out, I’m going to go out fighting. This is how business owners think.”
Today at the Enegren Brewing Company, people no longer fill the outdoor garden or the restaurant. “Now it’s just this cold, windy alley. No one’s happy. Our employees are just trying to hang on. The morale is terrible,” Enegren says. “When you spend ten years of your life building something or creating this restaurant or business or whatever, it’s like an artwork. … [County officials] say, ‘We’ve been fighting for you, been fighting for this,’ and I’m thinking, ‘No, you’re not. You’re not doing anything.”