BELLEVILLE, Ill. – Belleville sports the biggest Hofbräuhaus beer hall in the country. General Manager Guy Crouch says that doesn’t matter to the health department.
“I don’t know too many people who have a 64,000 square-foot dining room,” he said.
The beer hall can hold 1,300 people. That means hundreds could show up before it would even reach 25 percent capacity.
“If you think about a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, we have the space for people to have an enjoyable and safe meal here,” Crouch said.
Not only are they prohibited from opening inside but the St. Clair County Health Department won’t even allow them to seat people by their huge sliding doors. Health inspectors say 50 percent of the wall needs to open to make it legal. With all three sliders open, it appears to be 50 percent of the wall, yet health inspectors insist it’s not.
“The rule is the rule and we have to abide by the rules and, in turn, I believe if we abide by the rules, I believe good things will happen for us,” Crouch said.
Crouch insists on following the rules, even though it costs him.
“On a good weekend, we would be doing $15,000, $18,000, $20,000 in a night,” he said. “When the governor implemented his order, we had one day where we brought in less than $200.”
That total included tips. That’s not enough to keep the lights on.
“I’ve had personal experiences where friends of mine have gotten sick, so I understand how serious this is, but at the same time – if we don’t have a business – 72 percent of our employees are Belleville residents,” Crouch said.
Like Trevor Reeb, who explained he was born for this job.
“My last name is beer backwards,” he said. “It’s been a great icebreaker in high school and college.”
Born and raised in Belleville, his great grandparents once lived across the street. He shares the philosophy of following the rules.
“We’re doing from the beginning what we thought is the right thing to do,” he said.
They got more bad news when they set up outside seating.
“We have plenty of space out there, but we can’t get a tent because the tents are all gone,” Crouch said. “We can’t get a propane heater because the propane heaters are all gone.”
Crouch said they were once quoted a price of $3,500 for a tent for one week, just before they were completely rented out.
For now, they’re relying on curbside, hoping those who drive through the Way of Lights across the street may visit Hofbräuhaus for a double feature.
Crouch has contacted every one of his elected representatives, trying to get anyone to listen about why he has a unique ability to have safe indoor eating. So far no one has stepped up as he says he will continue to follow the rules no matter how much he thinks they’re unfair.