Uxbridge community steps up to help The Second Wedge Brewery in their time of need

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Published June 17, 2022 at 9:05 am

The Second Wedge Brewery after an F2 tornado touched down May 21. Photo Jon Blacker Canadian Press

For Joanne Richter and Rob Garrard, their world and that of their neighbours got turned upside down – quite literally – on May 21 when an F2 tornado touched down in the town, ripping the roof off their brewery and causing widespread devastation around the community.

Richter was out of town, but Garrard was there at The Second Wedge Brewery in downtown Uxbridge, along with two staff members and several tables of customers (including a baby), when the tornado hit, showering the staff and customers with debris. “Maggie and Luke had the wherewithal to pull the customers into the bathroom area to avoid further risk,” Richter said. Her husband, meanwhile, was upstairs with the family dog when the twister ripped the roof off the building.

“Rob and our dog came down then, completely drenched – it was raining torrentially inside the brewery, which now had no roof. I’m told this is when everyone downstairs realized what they had just been through.”

Once the wind subsided the brewery team moved everyone outside for safety.

Joanne Richter and Rob Garrard

“The scene was completely surreal: the brewery roof was cleanly torn off, cars were crushed, wires were down, the brewery, tasting room and beer garden were trashed and full of debris, trees were down everywhere, and our roof had blown across the road and flattened a feed store building.”

“The fact that no one was seriously injured is absolutely mind-blowing.”

Foundry Pi, which had just opened their pizza ‘container’ in the brewery’s beer garden for the season the day before, was just getting set to open for the day. “Steve and RJ were inside the container during the tornado strike,” Richter continued, “and didn’t see the full extent till they came out after the storm passed. Luckily they were safe, but both their cars were smashed by debris.”

That was also the aha moment for a lot of people in Uxbridge, especially the newcomers. The town has always had a reputation for helping one another in times of need going back to their Quaker roots, but new residents were seeing it in action.

“I think everyone was in a state of shock that day, but a big crowd of people from the community came out to see what they could do to help. With so many homes affected, that was pretty incredible,” she said. “The support from our community here in Uxbridge, and also the brewing community across Ontario, has been absolutely overwhelming. We’ve even had kids do birthday fundraisers for us!”

“Local businesses and breweries and restaurants all over have offered space, helping hands, jobs for our staff, meals, you name it. Basically, what we’ve heard over and over is, ‘we love you, you just tell us what you need, we’ll be there’. I’m not sure I can describe how grateful we are to be so supported.”

The Second Wedge Brewery. May 21, 2022

Work is still being done around town cleaning up after the storm – people were out of power for 10 days, for goodness sakes – and there is much more to do, especially for businesses like The Second Wedge Brewery, which saw their building almost completely destroyed.

“It’s been almost four weeks now since that day and we’re all ‘ok’ but there are moments where things feel overwhelming and sad. There’s a lot of work right now and ahead: dealing with the insurance claim, managing customers’ expectations – we lost all the beer in our tanks so we’ve run out of many, including our best-selling 3 Rocks – salvaging things from the wreckage, organizing cold storage and moving our beer there, organizing repairs, organizing contract brewing, and trying to stay visible in our community.”

“Then, of course, is the rebuild. Our landlord also owns a stake in the brewery, so we’re incredibly lucky that we’ll be working from the same playbook, but we have a long road ahead. “

The first thing that must happen, Richter explained, is a new roof installation, and they’ve been told the roof trusses will take two to three months to arrive. “The whole building has to be gutted and re-done, apparently. All we can say right now is it’ll take ‘several months’ until we’re further down the road and can get a better timeline. We’re looking at ways to operate in our beer garden while construction is underway, so stay tuned.”

The issue of staff has been top of mind for Richter since the storm. “We’re trying to keep all our staff engaged through all of this. They’re all friends so they’re socially engaged even when we don’t have work for them, which is great, but ideally we want to give them meaningful paying work and keep them part of our team.”

The brewery has received some donations from the community – including from young people who operated a lemonade stand; from Brynn and Avery, who collected funds for their 10th birthday and donated it to the brewery; and from the local famers’ market, which left out a collection jar – and the brewery is going to funnel those to staff to help with lost earnings.

Uxbridge after the storm, Despite everything, this is a community that stepped up to help their neighbours

“We’ll be doing pop-ups, like the one this weekend in our parking lot, and the last few weeks at Uxbridge Farmers’ Market, and both of our local cideries have reached out offering to do something fun in their spaces too, so we look forward to having our staff be part of these.”

Local breweries have also stepped up with offers of support, including Old Flame in Port Perry – their nearest brewing neighbour – who invited the brewing team from The Second Wedge over for a keg splitting and cleaning ‘party.’

“We’ve had many people in this industry reach out to us in our time of chaos. It’s so appreciated, and you can be sure we’ll pay it forward.”

Sunday marks one month since the tornado and the memories of the destruction it caused have dimmed just a bit as the job of rebuilding takes over, Richer noted. But the overwhelming memories of a community picking itself up after a disaster and reaching out to help their neighbours is something that will stick with her forever.

“It’s really hard to describe. It’s the opposite of sorrow but the physical sensation feels bizarrely similar,” she said, adding that the word she is looking for is ‘verklempt,’ German for ‘overcome with emotion.’ “We’re very proud Uxbridgians. The hashtag #uxbridgestrong? That’s a true fact.”

The Second Wedge Brewery will be hosting a Fathers’ Day weekend parking lot pop-up starting today, complete with a beer tent and live music. As the brewery put in their invitation to the community, you can go somewhere to buy beer with a roof and real bathrooms and power “or you can come here … Friday, Saturday and Sunday from noon to six p.m. from our 10 x10 tent in our post-tornadic parking lot serviced by a porta-potty. Is this really a choice?”

“We know this setting is irresistible, so we’re even putting out tables and stools (in the hot sun) and serving 12-oz pours, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Dad. Trust us, this is what he wants.”

Customers can order ahead on the website for fast pickup (http://shopthesecondwedge.ca), but walk-ups are welcome too.

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