Bear Chase to Set Up Free Grocery for Restaurant Workers

Bear Chase Brewing will join a growing number of breweries dotted around Virginia offering free pop-up grocery stores to people in the restaurant industry, who have felt the order to close up shop keenly in their

bank accounts.

Bear Chase Helps will open at noon on Friday. Anyone who brings a pay stub from a restaurant and a grocery bag will get free groceries to help them through the closures, as restaurant dining rooms have been ordered to closed to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Bear Chase Helps will be open from noon to six.

“We understand that it’s going to be a little bit tight for everybody’s pocketbook,” said Chris Suarez, general manager of the expansive brewery overlooking the Loudoun Valley from near Snickersville Gap in Bluemont. They and a handful of other breweries across Virginia have partnered with restaurant and food supply company Sysco Virginia to provide the groceries to get those restaurant works some help.

Suarez said since the brewery’s spacious property is mostly not in use right now, it made sense to set up a free pop-up grocery to help out.

The idea began in Harrisonburg, the home of Sysco Virginia and of Pale Fire Brewing Co., where founder Tim Brady started the idea of Pale Fire Brewing Co. Helps.

“We have an empty taproom because we’ve gone down to just to-go sales and just doing the responsible thing, but it’s a big space, it’s got big roll-up garage doors, a lot of that kind of stuff,” Brady said. “And I was trying to think of what’s a positive that we can do in these times.”

Brady said he reached out to a friend at Sysco and raised the idea—and his friend said the company has plenty of food that needs to be eaten right now, with restaurants being closed.

“I was like, well, what if we set up a food bank specifically for the restaurant industry, because everybody basically in the industry lost their jobs at the same time,” Brady said. “…I don’t think there’s anybody who isn’t affected by this, but restaurant workers, I think, were hit disproportionately hard.”

If Pale Fire Helps is any indication, Bear Chase Helps will have a big impact—Brady said the Harrisonburg pop-up grocery is open twice a week and has seen steady food traffic.

Even as Sysco’s own business takes a downturn, Sysco Virginia District Manager Mary Long said it’s a good way to help out. The company also partners with DC-based nonprofit No Kid Hungry and, according to Long, has donated more than 3 million meals since the pandemic began.

She said the company does not want to throw food away—and hasn’t.

“This certainly isn’t going to put two months’ worth of meals on their table, but they won’t have to worry about where the next meal is coming from,” Long said.

Sysco is also partnering with breweries in Richmond and Charlottesville, she said—“good, central locations, and people are familiar with the, and again, nobody’s in there taking up space, so it just kind of made sense.”

Bear Chase, Suarez said, is positioned to help people both in Loudoun and Clarke. The project also now has a website: BearChaseHelps.com, a website created for free by Digital Minerva under its founder and director James Carter.

Carter, who was a partner in the project since its beginning at Pale Fire, has his team working on his sixth such website right now. When Brady, and old friend, first approached him, Carter said he jumped at the chance to help.

Suarez is not yet sure when food will run out, and recommended that people who aren’t there when Bear Chase Helps opens call ahead to check. It will be open from noon to 6 p.m. or until food runs out Friday, April 3. More information is at BearChaseHelps.com.

Bear Chase is also still selling online to-go orders of their brews for pickup either at the brewery or at one of three Friday drop-off locations: Lansdowne Resort and Spa, Holloway Company in Arcola, and John H. Enders Fire Company and Rescue Squad in Berryville. Orders can be placed in advance at BearChaseBrew.com.

Bear Chase Brewing is located at 33665 Bear Chase Lane, Bluemont.

rgreene@loudounnow.com