Flight Line Tap Room on surviving the COVID crisis

Flight Line Tap Room on surviving the COVID crisisBy LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer If you are driving down Balsam Street on a Friday or Saturday night you may see a line of people and think “Something is going on.” It is. There is a food truck with a line of people and if you look closer you will see tables and chairs all along the block. Flight Line Tap Room is open for business. They not only have outdoor seating, they have board games, beer on tap, sodas. All food is welcome whether a picnic from home or take out.

Since its inception, Flight Line Tap Room has received the support of the community. Owner Caiti Whitfield can not praise Desert Valley Credit Union enough. She tells us, “We wouldn’t have been able to be here without them. On paper, we didn’t look fantastic, we had hit some rough spots, but Eric Bruen was really willing to sit down and listen to our story and see us as people and because he did that and took that extra step, we were able to open. They really do care about the community, they do what they can to support small businesses, I love that they see Ridgecrest as a team and not a competition.”

Flight Line Tap Room was enthusiastically received by the town when they opened their doors on January 25, 2020. People were drawn to their flights (an assortment of craft beers in small portions), fourteen craft beers on tap, hard to find bottled beer, unique sodas, and the family-friendly atmosphere with ambient sounds kept low to encourage conversation. A mere seven weeks later the COVID crisis hit. She tells us, “There were so many ups and downs and closes and opens. I think we closed for a week; then we found out we could do curbside; we did curbside for a while; then we were able to be open; then we had to close again and they said close all operations, so we closed everything. Then they said, ‘No you can still do curbside,’ so we went back to curbside. Then it was you can be open outside but you have to have a meal; then it was you have to be closed again totally until we are in the orange but then you can only do outdoor. It has been up and down and back and forth.” She jokes, “You had whiplash from all of the changes back and forth.”

Asked how they survived the pandemic, Whitfield does not hesitate, “We have the best customers.” Caiti and her husband, Jake, are fluent in digital communication; they had spent the open seven weeks encouraging people to follow them on Facebook and Instagram. She says, “Because we did that, when we closed we were able to keep all of our customers up to date with all of the changes. They were able to 1) keep up to date on what was going on and 2) they saw where our menu was because we kept our menu published online with all of the prices and all of the beers we had. Which means they were able to send us a message on Facebook or Instagram with their orders.”

The loyalty of their customers was evident during the total shutdown period, “When we closed our customers were lined up to buy gift cards. They really wanted to see us make it,” she says with a hint of tears in her eyes. “It was really encouraging, people just wanted to help us. Now we have people coming in spending gift cards. And we say, ‘Thank you for getting a gift card. I know when you got this gift card, so thank you for helping us ensure that we are here.’”

The Whitfields did not waste time during the shutdown. They were able to complete renovations that enhanced the atmosphere: a different ceiling, better lighting. Outdoor seating has been popular, so they plan to pursue creating a permanent outdoor setting by working with the City and the ABC. Looking ahead to post-pandemic world, they have plans to add a Trivia Night, a Beer Club and other events. However, they want to leave live music, karaoke, and open mic to other venues. Their focus is on people socializing.

Flight Line attracts all kinds of people. “We’ve had people of all ages come and find something that they are looking for. There is a dad who brings his son in regularly. The son gets a soda and the dad gets a beer and they play Battleship. That’s their thing. It is so cute to see parents playing board games with their kids.” And vital to our economy, “We have seen a lot of out-of-towners. We get people from all over. When we welcome people in we don’t recognize we ask, ‘Is this your first time here? And how did you find us?’ And they say, ‘Google and Yelp.’” Their menu is on their website flightlinetap.com and on the Untappd app which sends notifications when a new beer is added to their menu.

“I love it when people come in and say they don’t like beer because I think they haven’t found one they like yet. It is a challenge. There are beers that taste like chocolate, that taste like coffee, that taste like passion fruit and guava, ones that taste like lime, ones that taste like beer, ones that taste like hops. There is such a wide range of different kinds of beers we can find one you like,” says Whitfield, adding, “Give it a try!”

Laura Austin photo: Caiti Whitfield, owner of Flight Line Tap Room, serving in a family-friendly environment.

Story First Published: 2021-05-21