Friends Band Together To Reopen Brewpub

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HOUSTON — The traffic was light driving in on Sunday morning. South of Henderson, I stopped in Mount Enterprise for a pit stop and some iced tea and noticed all the gas pump handles were covered. I had heard of spot fuel outages in Dallas and Austin. I was heading to north Houston to help my daughter Mere and son-in-law Matt make repairs after Hurricane Harvey to City Acre Brewing — their brewpub/restaurant.

From Henderson to Corrigan — nearly 90 miles — not a single convenience store had gasoline. I finally found a working pump (cash only) in that small town and filled up, since I had no idea if I would be able to find fuel in a city flooded by record rainfall. I had enough gas to get to Houston, but not back home when the time came. Oddly enough, the closer I got to Houston, the more stores had fuel as I watched drivers filling up. Clearly the “shortage” was largely a result of panicked drivers topping off because of fears of a gas shortage.

I got to City Acre at 11. About 15 people were already at work tearing out sheetrock to four feet off the floor, pulling out wet insulation. The brewpub had only sustained a foot of water, but that was enough to create quite a mess. I joined the crew, which consisted of friends of Mere and Matt, and loyal customers eager to help get the place reopened. In times like these you learn who your real friends are. Everyone pitched in, stopping only for a lunch of pulled pork supplied by my Beautiful Mystery Companion and Matt’s mom.

Matt is an engineer by trade and has an analytical, systematic approach to solving problems. “Let’s shoot for opening by Wednesday afternoon,” he said. He had wisely ordered sheetrock delivered to his parents’ house in Brenham, since finding it in Houston would be dicey at best. He had developed a plan of action; luckily the actual brewery did not take in water, and the beer was fine. We taste-tested it several times just to be sure.

Many of their friends spent their entire Labor Day weekend helping clean up the mess. The assistant chef, a gregarious Hispanic fellow named Tony, played Mexican music as we worked 12-hour days. Tony was working for free, so he could play any type of music he wished. I noticed virtually every song contained the word corazòn, which means heart and is also used as a term of endearment — like “sweetie” in English. I remarked about this to Tony, who delivered a long soliloquy on love and the Mexican culture. Tony and I became tight during my four days there.

We replaced the sheetrock, and taped and floated new pieces. Mere, who did not even know what “taping and floating” meant, soon became adept at doing so. The taproom’s walls were covered by tongue-and-groove flooring installed vertically about three feet up. The volunteers had carefully pried each board loose — more than 300 by my guess — and removed the brad nails. On Wednesday morning, I took on the task of nailing the boards back up on the long wall, with a compressor-powered nailer. I had about 40 feet worth of 3-inch boards to nail. I finished two hours before opening.

Rick the Chef had already put the kitchen back in shape. Mandy, the general manager, Mere, Matt and I worked furiously to clean up the taproom, which was coated in sheetrock dust. We put up tools, picked up debris outside in the beer garden and finished about 3:55.

City Acre opened at 4 sharp. There is still work to do — finishing a bathroom, repainting walls, and a few other details, but at least the business was up and running again, after 10 days with no income.

The first fellow showed up just after 4. Then a couple of folks who live in the neighborhood, who had been cleaning out a flooded house across the street, arrived. By 6 p.m., the familiar sound of people clinking glasses and forks scraping plates filled the building and outside. A cold front had swept through that morning, and the weather was gorgeous, the garage doors open.

So many people in Houston lost much more. I am grateful Mere and Matt’s damage was limited, their house next door unscathed. Many thousands in Houston, Beaumont and throughout Southeast Texas were far less fortunate.

I am now keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Irma. My oldest daughter, Kasey, lives on Florida’s east coast.

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