How the women owned business Republic Restoratives pivoted amid the ongoing pandemic

Hi, I’m Sarah Mosbacher, the CFO of Republic Restoratives Distillery in Ivy City.  We opened our doors in the spring of 2016 and our portfolio includes Civic Vodka, Borough Bourbon, Chapmans Apple Brandy, and Purpose Rye.  

Prior to COVID we manufactured these spirits and were also actively distilling our own estate bourbon, currently aging in barrels.  We distributed these products ourselves to bars, restaurants, and bottle shops and were in the process of a strategic multi-state expansion, all supported by a growing sales team.  The front of our facility housed a beautiful bar that was open to the public Thursday through Sunday except for when we closed for private events, including weddings.  On the weekends we offered educational tours of our facility and guests were welcome to purchase our bottled product right at the bar.  Outside of the building we had a staff of brand ambassadors that did tastings at liquor stores and other events.

Today things are different.  

For us, and for many DC businesses, we mark Sunday, March 15th as our last day of pre-COVID business.  In the following days we went on to lay off our bar staff, our tour guides, our brand ambassadors, and our out-of-state sales managers.  We postponed or cancelled private events, closed our facility to the public, paused bourbon production to save on utilities, and cut as many expenses as we could.  The core of our business (events and wholesale) was immediately shut off and we needed to prepare for a long period without revenue.

The prior week, in anticipation of what was to come, we developed a plan to start two new lines of business: hand sanitizer production and direct-to-consumer deliveries.  

The hand sanitizer was pretty simple science and we’d already heard of some other distilleries doing the same.  The World Health Organization released a recipe for hand sanitizer with just three ingredients: One of those ingredients is high-proof alcohol, the most highly regulated and hardest to obtain, so we were well-positioned to start production immediately.  We provided hand sanitizer to a number of businesses and organizations but our biggest contract was with the DC government to whom we delivered 11 thousand gallons of hand sanitizer over the course of three months.

The second new line of business we launched, direct-to-consumer delivery, wasn’t quite as wild of a departure.  We’ve always been permitted to sell direct-to-consumer, which we did at our bar, but the operational set up to provide home delivery was more hassle than it was worth in a pre-COVID world and we didn’t think consumers would be willing to pay the price point needed to cover the expense.  Now, however, our beautiful bar is the staging area for a successful delivery operation.  In the past six months we’ve made over 3,500 home deliveries and done over 2,000 curbside pickups.  

These two lines of business may not carry us into the future but they served us well for a period of time that we needed them most.  The Purells of the world are back meeting hand sanitizer demand, and an increasing number of our home delivery customers are returning to bars and restaurants and liquor stores.  We were also fortunate enough to receive a DC Small Business Grant and a PPP loan from the SBA but those too have come and gone now.

Our business is forever changed by the events of this year.  Some of the skilled staff we lost we may never get back; some of the lines of business we paused may be too expensive to restart; the growth trajectory we were counting on at this stage of our company may be forever stunted.  

All that said:  We’re still here.  Not everyone is and for that we’re grateful.


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