OGDEN — As the COVID-19 pandemic grips the world, some silver linings are already starting to appear.
Take, for example, Ogden’s Own. The largest independent distillery in the state recently announced that it would donate all profits made in March and April to local staff members and employees of Utah’s bar and restaurant community.
The industry figures to be hit hard during the novel coronavirus response. Last week, Gov. Gary Herbert issued an order to all restaurants, bars and food service establishments to suspend dine-in operations for at least two weeks.
“Restaurants and bars are the fabric of our community,” said Steve Conlin, CEO and co-founder of Ogden’s Own. “These are places where people come together over cocktails and share camaraderie, celebration and lifelong memories. None of these moments ... would be possible without the efforts of our talented bartenders, chefs and service workers — which is exactly why we are passionate about having their back.”
Looking at what figures to be a difficult few weeks or months ahead, Conlin said he hopes other companies will follow suit where they can.
Meanwhile, longtime Ogden resident Charlie Trentelman started an initiative on Facebook encouraging Ogden residents to continue to patronize their favorite local restaurants, using dine-out options while leaving a big tip.
“At least once a week, order your favorite meal from your favorite locally-owned restaurant — drive down, park in the reserved space, and when you pay, tip WAY too much,” Trentelman’s Facebook post reads. “I think $20, if you can afford it, should be a minimum. Unless it’s a big order. Whatever you can do, but none of that 20 percent stuff, OK?”
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell has since shared the post and thinks the idea is gaining traction.
“I’m behind it 100 percent,” Caldwell said. “This is a time when we all need to come together and think about ways we can help take care of one another.”
Caldwell also lauded Ogden’s Own and said he expects to see more of the same as the fluid COVID-19 situation continues to unfold.
“I say this all the time, but Ogden has been nationally recognized as the most charitable community in the nation,” he said. “We’re going through some difficult times right now, but I think you’re going to see our city’s spirit shine through.”
The distillery has also found a way to extend its charity beyond the restaurant and bar community. Conlin said he saw an article going around about a distillery in Portland, Oregon, that was making hand sanitizer. He immediately wanted to do something similar, but Ogden’s Own didn’t have the right type of license to engage in production. But last Wednesday, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau waived specific license requirements that stood in the way of distilleries making the product.
“We looked together as a team and said, ‘Do we want to do this?’ and kind of came to the conclusion that we kind of had to do this,” Conlin said.
By Friday, the sanitizer was for sale in little bottles.
The distillery is selling the hand sanitizer bottles for 50 cents per ounce and is allowing other businesses to sell the hand sanitizer as well for a recommended price of 79 cents per ounce.
The sanitizer, according to a post on the company’s Facebook page, is composed of ethyl alcohol 80%, hydrogen peroxide, glycerin and purified water.
It uses the same alcohol that goes into vodka, albeit at a higher concentration.
“It was pretty amazing. We’re lucky to have great relationships with the print company next door to do our print labels, a great container relationship we’ve had 10 years,” Conlin said.
The company is prioritizing getting the sanitizer to medical personnel, medical facilities and first responders.
But Ogden’s Own is getting calls left and right from companies around the state and the country, including big corporations, trying to get their hands on some sanitizer.
“Every hospice center in the area has called,” Conlin said “Basically you have an entire nation that’s been out of hand sanitizer for three weeks.”
There are nine or 10 full-time employees working at Ogden’s Own, and Conlin says every ounce of energy is devoted to making hand sanitizer, but they’ve run into a problem.
Since the demand for hand sanitizer is through the roof, it’s straining the supply chain for ethyl alcohol.
Ogden’s Own has made around 4,000 liters of hand sanitizer so far, and Conlin estimates the distillery can produce about 750 to 1,000 liters per day based on current supply chain snarls.
Should supplies become more plentiful, the distillery’s production potential could more than double, Conlin said.
“We’re doing our best. The need is overwhelming and it’s almost impossible, and I’m trying to get back to everyone who’s reached out to us. If they follow our Five Wives Facebook page, we’ll try to put as much information up there as possible,” Conlin said.