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Updated: November 18, 2020

Bubbles and beer: Portland craft brewery will serve outside this winter in mini-tents

Illutstration of heated 'bubble tents' on outdoor patio Illustration / Courtesy, Rising Tide As shown in an illustration, heated, socially distanced tents will go up at Rising Tide Brewing Co. by early December so the craft brewery's outdoor service can remain open safely during the winter.

Rising Tide Brewing Co. in Portland, owned by husband-and-wife team Heather and Nathan Sanborn, plans to serve customers outside all winter on the craft brewery's patio with the aid of propane fire pits, tower heaters and heated "bubble tents" over eight picnic tables.

Once the tents are up in early December, staff will serve from outside the bubbles and deliver drinks and food to serving barrels at the entrance of each tent, in order to maintain social distancing and reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19.

The tents will be fully aired out and sanitized after each use. Rising Tide, which employs 29 people, hopes to keep outdoor service open during what is normally the off-season — including snowy months, but probably not during driving rain, wind, ice, or what Heather Sanborn calls "the worst part of winter."

Mainebiz caught up with the 2015 Mainebiz Woman to Watch honoree to learn more about the innovation.

Portrait of Heather Sanborn in front of wooden barrierls
File Photo / William Trevaskis
Heather Sanborn, owner of Rising Tide Brewing Co. with her husband Nathan Sanborn, was honored as a Mainebiz Woman to Watch in 2015.

Mainebiz: Where did you source the bubble tents from and how much of an investment is it?

Heather Sanborn: The bubble tents are made by a company called Alvantor. We found them online through extensive research of all our options and bought the first sample tent to try it out back in August. We also had to purchase a large tent heater and had a local engineer design a manifold so that the heater would be able to feed hot air into eight separate tents. All-in, we have probably spent well over $15,000 on the project. 

MB: How many customers will you be able to accommodate with these structures and when will they go up?

HS: The bubble tents will go over our picnic tables and can accommodate up to eight people each. In alignment with the CDC guidelines, we recommend that folks only reserve the bubbles for dining with members of their own household or "COVID bubble." We have seating areas around fire pits and tower heaters on the west side of our patio, which is a great option for socializing in a completely open air and more distanced way. The bubbles will go up the week after Thanksgiving, with advance reservations opening later this week. Our fire pits and tower heaters —  as well as a large, heated but open-sided tent that will come down to make room for the bubbles — are in place now and open throughout November.

MB: How did you learn of this tent option?

HS: Since August, our management team has been brainstorming ideas and researching what has been done in the past at ski areas and other cold weather venues like Quebec's Winter Carnaval. Even though we are licensed as a restaurant so we could have people inside, we decided early on that we wanted to stay outside-only for the winter to protect our team and our guests. We then tried to figure out the best options for making that happen. There are lots of places around the country and around the world that are using some variation of this concept for the colder weather months during this pandemic. 

MB: On a more general note, what's your state of mind and outlook for business this winter?

HS: So much will depend on the weather, as well as how our customers respond to it. If we have a bright sunny winter, even if it's really cold, I think we'll have a very successful and fun season on the patio. If it's gray and rainy or icy — particularly on the weekends — it's going to be much tougher, so I expect we'll ride a roller coaster of weather forecasts all winter. I know I am really looking forward to those first glorious sunny spring days in March or April when the temperatures are about the same as they are now. I know it will feel like a heat wave to us then!

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So the city that is so concerned with climate change and voted for a green new deal, has no issue with nearly every tasting room and restaurant heating the outdoors with tons of carbon producing petroleum burning?

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