BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
MORGAN LEGEL

Journal Staff

Johnson

Following the theory that we all have to eat, many of the new businesses opening or staying the course in Guam are restaurants — though it’s still a challenged sector.

But two breweries and a restaurant/beverage importer are also taking advantage of the return of social life to the island — and the general enjoyment of beverages in Guam. 

Carabao Brewing’s Co-owners Anna and Ben Johnson took over the Mermaid Tavern & Grille property in Hagatna in June 2018, opening the new brewery in July 2019.

The brewpub is open from 11.30 a.m. until 10 p.m., except on Sundays, when hours are from noon to 6 p.m. and is closed on Mondays. Carabao currently has 26 employees.

While beer selections rotate through different styles and varieties, the restaurant normally has between eight and 13 beers on draught, including but not limited to light lagers, pale ales, IPAs and Gose (sour/salty). House made sodas, iced tea and other cocktails are also served.

“We were only open eight months pre-pandemic and had just started to get our feet under us and build our brand,” Anna Johnson said. “It’s impossible to say what we would be like without the pandemic.”

But the clientele of Carabao remained supportive throughout the pandemic.

“We are seeing more people come out,” Johnson said. “But it’s same clientele as we’ve had, the same people that have been patronizing us throughout the pandemic… You can find a wide variety of patrons, just about anybody and everybody.”

The Guam Brewery is re-opening in Tumon — though in a 16,000 square foot smaller property at the same location in Blue Lagoon Plaza. Andrew Brunson, head brewer; said he hopes to open in June, pending permitting and has been planning the re-opening since 2021. Much of the equipment will come out of storage, but Brunson is making new tabletops. “They’re a little nicer,” he said.

Guam Brewery has been distributing its beers to South Pacific Petroleum Corp.’s Circle K convenience stores, Pay-Less supermarkets and several bars and restaurants around the island.

 But Brunson said, “For a brewery, having a taphouse showcases your products and the culture behind your beer.” Patrons can expect 12 taps and a variety of seltzers, as well as a house soda. “The food will be pretty limited,” Brunson said, but people are welcome to bring food in.

Ludwig “Lutz” Uhmeyer in McKraut’s German Restaurant and Beer Garden in Inarajan.
Journal file photo

McKraut’s German Restaurant and Beer Garden in Inarajan has more than 40 imported beers and wines, imported through sister company Hansa Import LLC, which also distributes on-island to Pay-Less and “numerous bars and restaurants,” according to Owner Ludwig “Lutz” Uhmeyer. He said business is okay, but not back to where it was pre-pandemic. He has two fulltime and a part-time employee.

McKraut’s is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, from noon to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and from noon to 8 p.m. on Sundays. Guests are drawn by German dishes, an unpretentious menu of American food — and imported tap beers and imported wines.

The restaurant is fully open — inside and out. Uhmeyer said, “We have a beer garden, with al fresco dining outside.” Plus, he is planning to again host the Octoberfest this year, Uhmeyer said.

For businesses that previously saw much of their revenue from the tourist market, the prospects are less certain.

Marcos Fong, managing director of Nakicos Corp., which does business as Subway Restaurants and Chili’s Grill & Bar on Guam, said that due to the lack of tourism, Chili’s at Tumon Sands Plaza has stopped hosting live music and bands. There is no plan to bring those back as it’s not a “big attractor” now, although the majority of Chili’s business is in the late afternoon and evening, he said.

Chili’s “has been fortunate when it comes to employees, having kept most of the employees on, even at reduced hours,” he said. “Now that business is coming back, we’re increasing those hours.” Fong also said that it has been difficult finding new hires for the “heart of house” like line cooks and other kitchen members, but that it has a staff of 30 currently.

While supply chain shortages are still an issue, Fong said it hasn’t hit Chili’s too hard.

“We’re not immune to the problem,” he said. “But because we control a lot of our own products, and import a lot of products, we’re doing okay. Our ability to source from different suppliers, our ability to pivot and have some options with shipping helps, so we’re not at the mercy of just the local distributors.”

He did say that Chili’s had to bring in emergency shipments from both California and Asia at one time or another during the pandemic.

An issue that is really striking Chili’s is the cost of food and product, which are “putting a lot of stress on restaurants in general,” he says. The price of protein has increased anywhere between 20% and 30%, leaving Chili’s to evaluate price increases.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher every day, with the different pressures,” Fong said.

Chili’s drives business through an ongoing list of value menus and special offerings — such as on National Burger Day on May 28. Chili’s employs heavy promotion in all forms from print aimed at the business community as well as island residents and through social media — all of which take planning and effort. The brand’s strength and an emphasis on friendly service has helped also, as have the contents of its marketing — the food looks as good as it gets. 

Patrick Perez, manager of Chili’s, told the Journal marketing helps awareness. “With the right team in place, it’s not that hard. The marketing plan is there.” While the restaurant has regulars, Perez said, “We want to grab the people that aren’t there.” Chili’s multiple platform strategy “hits a lot of people that are out there,” he said.

Businesses that rely heavily on tourism are taking the first steps back.

Patterson Enterprises does business as Suncare Distributors, Guam Self Storage and Guam Premium Chocolate. The chocolate factory closed in February 2020 and stores at Guam Premier Outlets and Micronesia Mall closed also.

George C. Patterson, president of Patterson Enterprises; re re-opened the chocolate factory in early May as island retailers began wanting products in anticipation of tourists returning. While his machinery never shut down, it did need general care. “We brought the engineers in from Germany. They did the maintenance …,” he said.

DFS was the first company to place orders, but he has received orders also from Kmart, ABC and Japan Plaza.

Patterson has begun hiring again. “Right now, we have six employees. We had 35 during our peak time.” Suncare lost a lot of its health and beauty aids from brand such as Johnson & Johnson, Centrum, Revlon, Clairol and Listerine and those have now gone to Hawaii distributors to service the Guam market.

He said Guam businesses have suffered. “Anybody who stayed in there lost a lot of money. … We lost $300,000 of expired product.”

The storage business has done well. Patterson said it is “98% always full.”

The chocolate business he has now is a beginning. At Kmart, Guam Premium Chocolate has a presence. “It’s a small section. Not anywhere close to where it was before,” Patterson said. The business he has is also strictly anticipatory, he said, with “just enough to fill the shelves.”

The biggest purchasers of chocolate as gifts are the Japanese, he said.

LCH International Group, which does business as American Chocolate Factory is in Tumon on the second floor of the Rainbow Building, across from Pacific Islands Club Guam. Its products are handmade. Both the factory and the store reopened, staff said. Most of its sales were geared towards tourists, according to Journal files.

Some businesses have found the food and beverage market too challenging to continue.

The Ishii Brewing Co. closed in September 2020 and has not re-opened. 

Other businesses whose closures were pandemic-related include Terry’s Local Comfort Food, Chuck E Cheese, the ABC store at Tumon Sands Plaza, Rotten Apple, Tony Roma’s at the Agana Shopping Center. Editor’s note: Chili’s Grill & Bar is a sister company to Glimpses Media, which publishes the Journal. mbj