“I don’t think we’re going to be in the hand sanitizer business forever. I expect Purell will figure out how to increase their supply,” says Pia Carusone of Republic Restoratives, later adding, “Frankly I’m not even sure that we really should be doing this, but who’s going to complain? I think it’s obvious that we’re just trying to help.”
For the past week, D.C.’s queer-owned distillery has been giving away complimentary two ounce bottles of “hand cleaner,” which is something it started making as a way to help customers in the time of the COVID-19-fueled shortage. “It dawned on us, as the story progressed, that the ingredient people were having the hardest time finding, we have a lot of,” Carusone says. “I’m so proud of the response from our production team…. On Friday we asked them to stop their jobs and to figure out how to make something totally different, how to do it safely, and they did.”
That effort has now led to Republic becoming one of two businesses in the District, along with coffee roaster Compass Coffee, commissioned by Mayor Muriel Bowser this week to produce thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer for critical government staff and frontline medical workers. “We are now in production of 1000 gallons of hand sanitizer for the District of Columbia, [Mayor Bowser], for our front line workers,” Republic Restoratives said in a statement after the announcement. “Once that’s done, we’ll make more. And we won’t stop until we’re on the other side of this nightmare, together.”
The hand sanitizer is just the finishing touch of a retooled way of doing business at Republic, which under normal conditions Carusone describes as “a wholesale company [serving] two categories: bars and restaurants, and liquor stores.” With approximately 90 percent of their business effectively wiped out as a result of the mandated closure of D.C.’s bars and restaurants, Republic was compelled to shift course, temporarily turning “the business into a direct-to-consumer, on-demand delivery service: So if you’re sitting at home and realize, ‘Hey, I’m out of bourbon. I’d like to grab a bottle tonight, but I don’t want to have to go out and get it,’ you can place an order online on our website, www.RepublicRestoratives.com, and we will deliver direct to your doorstep.”
Since last week, a crew from Republic has been fulfilling orders of its four spirits — Civic Vodka, Borough Bourbon, Rodham Rye, and Chapman’s Apple Brandy — to customers in the district. There’s no minimum order for same-day delivery, offered at a flat rate of $10 per order if placed before 2 p.m., more if placed after for same-day delivery. Customers can also purchase and pick up spirits to go from the Ivy City distillery, which is otherwise closed to the public, having suspended its public tours and closed its on-site bar.
Carusone has been heartened by the public’s response, including 70 orders delivered on the first day alone. “I don’t mean to be hyperbolic, but this is saving peoples’ jobs,” she says. “If we can provide supplies during this crisis, that allows us to stay open. We didn’t have time to go through some lengthy business analysis to figure this out. We were just like, ‘If we can get bottles out to people, a $10 delivery charge probably would cover the hours of our employees, so that’s good for us.'”
In suburban Maryland, the queer-owned Denizens Brewing Co. was also forced by coronavirus-related restrictions to become a delivery service to keep it from total shutdown.
“Unfortunately, about 95 percent of our service staff have been let go temporarily, until we can reopen,” says Emily Bruno, co-owner of the brewery and its two locations, both of which normally operate with a full-service restaurant and bar. “But it does keep some beer moving and money coming in, and allows some team members to continue to work.”
Customers who live in the Free State within a five- to 10-mile radius of the craft brewery’s two locations, in Silver Spring and Riverdale, have been ordering sixpacks or cases of Denizens’ various brews since last weekend.
The Denizens Brewmobile has been making deliveries in a totally “contactless” fashion — an average of 40 to 50 per day, all placed before 2 p.m., with a $20 minimum and a $5 fee. In addition, a skeleton staff are on hand to offer items from the food menu delivered through UberEats from noon to 8 p.m.
The value in supporting local establishments such as Republic Restoratives and Denizens, especially with the current precarious state of affairs, goes well beyond the financial and institutional to include the community and society at large.
Both Carusone and Bruno call on those residents who still have “checks coming in” — particularly employees of the federal government and affiliated companies and organizations — to spend and give away their money in a largely and intentionally local way.
“The idea of supporting local matters,” says Carusone. “It has never been more important, whether it’s when you’re picking your vodka or your bourbon or your beer or your lunch or your dinner. I can’t overstate how important that all is right now. Because there are enough people who live in D.C. who can keep some — maybe not all, but some — of these businesses alive [and help] us get to the other side…. People need to eat, and we assume they’re going to be drinking — maybe more than normal. So we’re hoping that people remember us as they make their spending decisions. It means the world to us.”
You can still support both entities even if you’re a D.C. resident with a fully stocked liquor cabinet (and no need for more hand sanitizer) — or if you’re a nearby Maryland resident hunkered down with an oversupply of beer. (Residents of D.C. can purchase Denizens beer through Craft Beer Cellar DC.) Both businesses offer gift cards, sales of which immediately make money available to help pay for critical expenses and overhead at a time when the incoming cash flow has all but stopped. Customers can also help support the many varied and industry-wide efforts that have sprouted to help their employees along with the thousands of others who, in a matter of days, lost their jobs, their livelihood, and their network of peers — all those engaged in a service industry that has been rendered temporarily unserviceable and unworkable.
“There are different initiatives to get money into the hands of folks who are in the bar and restaurant industry,” says Bruno, who stresses the importance of supporting not only bartenders and servers but also those who work behind the scenes, or back-of-house, specifically calling out those who work in the kitchen. “The kitchen staff…are the most in need of getting money into their hands right away because their paychecks are gone.
“Of course all of my employees will have a job if I can reopen,” Bruno continues. “But they’re out of a paycheck after this last [pay period]. And that’s the thing that’s hardest about this: These are the people who do grueling work in kitchens, who smile when they get yelled at by customers throughout the night, who are taking care of people, and now they literally don’t have paychecks. It should be a requirement that every single person who does still have a paycheck starts to contribute to people who don’t.”
D.C. residents can order spirits from Republic Restoratives by calling 202-733-3996 or visiting www.republicrestoratives.com.
Marylanders can get beer delivered from Denizens Brewing Co. by calling 301-557-9818 or visiting www.denizensbrewingco.com. Residents of D.C. can order Denizens beer for delivery or curbside pickup from Craft Beer Cellar DC. Call 202-846-7585 or visit dc.craftbeercellar.com.
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