2021 Navigator: Young business owner Justin Keys puts community, safety first | SteamboatToday.com

2021 Navigator: Young business owner Justin Keys puts community, safety first

When Justin Keys moved to Steamboat Springs four years ago, he was a bit of an outsider. He knew a handful of people and was welcomed into the community but was an outsider nonetheless.

Keys moved to the Yampa Valley after buying the downtown bar, The Barley Tap & Tavern. Not only is Keys no longer an outsider, but he’s become a preeminent figure in the community, serving as an example of how to nurse a business through a pandemic and how to use his space and time to better the community.

The past year was validation of his belief that whatever one gives, it is returned tenfold.

“When the pandemic first kicked off, the support we got from people in town was unreal,” Keys said. “We were selling beer in mason jars because that’s all we could do at the time. People would come in, who also didn’t know what was going on with their jobs and what was going on with the world, and they’d buy four beers and then they’d buy a gift card.

If you go

What: 2021 Navigator Awards Celebration

When: 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 8

Where: Snow Bowl, 2090 Snow Bowl Plaza

Cost: $65 per person

For event and ticket information, visit SteamboatChamber.com/membership/member-events/navigator-awards

“For people to think about us and try to keep the Barley going and alive, that’s why you do all of it. That’s why you volunteer. That’s why you do all the things you do to give back to the community. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I’d be, but The Barley wouldn’t still be here.”

Keys, who was awarded the 2021 Navigator Award for Young Professional of the Year, was one of many business owners who adjusted his plan to survive the pandemic. He offered alcohol to go and served up more food for takeout, as well. He applied for and earned a Winter Outdoor Dining Fund grant to supply tables with warming flames. Keys had to let people go during the height of the restrictions but was able to bring everyone back. Better yet, they wanted to come back.

“After we laid everybody off, they would come in and help me clean stuff, for free, to come help because they believed in the place and wanted it to do well,” Keys said. “I laid them off, and they were coming in to buy to-go booze to take home to keep things going.”

Justin Keys, owner of The Barley Tap & Tavern, was chosen to received the 2021 Navigator Award for Young Professional of the Year. (Photo by John F. Russell)

Keys said he would not have been able to keep The Barley going without his General Manager Rob Day. They would brainstorm together all night trying to alter their business plan to fit the pandemic restrictions and the needs of the community.

“When I met him … he seemed like a very trustworthy person and a person who very much cares about everybody he’s around and cares about trying to make a good impression and trying to help people,” Day said. “That was the impression I got, and that ended up being true.”

Throughout the pandemic, Keys not only worked tirelessly to keep his business afloat and his employees happy, but he gave back to the community, something he’s made a point of doing since moving here.

“I think anybody can give back when it’s easy,” Keys said. “It doesn’t have to be money. It can be time, or even a small action here or there can be really impactful. Doing that when it’s not easy is when it means the most.”

Keys doesn’t have money to contribute, but he does have time and space.

He offers up a wall of the bar named the Theodore Benson Mood Board, a space for Young Bloods Collective members to hold a solo art show and potentially sell their works. Every two months, the art is rotated out, allowing up and coming artists to showcase their efforts and start the tough task of making money as a creative.

“Young Bloods exists to give a platform to people trying to make a living as an artist or trying to side hustle as an artist, people following their passion in a world that’s not easy to make a living off of, especially in a town that’s already not easy to make a living off of.”

If the artists choose to sell their work, The Barley doesn’t request a part of the cut.

Over the past year or so, more businesses have bought into the Good Night Out program, an initiative from Advocates of Routt County that educates bar and nightlife employees to spot and prevent sexual misconduct and allow people to feel safer.

Keys is responsible for the language in the training book and helped lead the pilot program at The Barley, while Sean Regan did so at Old Town Pub. His involvement with Advocates expanded even further when he joined its board of directors last year. Keys was later named treasurer of the recently formed umbrella board that oversees Advocates and the new Brighter World Child Advocacy Center.

“(Keys) was instrumental in developing the backbone of the whole program,” said Graham Hackett, social change manager with Advocates of Routt County. “He also went the extra mile. … What makes this one unique, Good Night Out, is Justin actually participates in the presentation of the program for participants. It’s a huge asset to the impact of the program having someone locally in that industry contributing to the Good Night Out message.”

Keys may start expanding the ways he contributes to the Yampa Valley, but The Barley will always be the centerpiece.

“This is my tool. The Barley is my tool to leverage better returns on giving and fundraising, awareness,” he said. “If people have good ideas, come to me.”

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