Nevada Interrupted: Distillery transitions from making hard liquor to hand sanitizer amid shutdown
Workers throughout the state are facing layoffs and financial uncertainties as businesses begin to close their doors to reduce and prevent the proliferation of COVID-19, per Gov. Steve Sisolak’s guidance to close all ‘non-essential’ businesses for the next 30 days.
As businesses and individuals navigate an uncertain future, they are getting creative.
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Tom Adams, the owner of Seven Troughs Distillery in Sparks, is creating high proof alcohol for hand sanitizer.
“We ran into another company that was unable to fulfill some of their orders because they don’t have access to good quality ethanol. So we just took our peanut butter and their chocolate and there you go,” he said. “Now we’re not filling bourbon barrels. We’re just filling containers with a high-grade ethanol and then we will give that to our industry partners.”
As for whether he ever expected to be using his alcohol for sanitizing purposes, Adams said it comes with the territory.
“You know, as a small business, the places the business takes you, it doesn't surprise me,” he said.
Since Adams founded Seven Troughs Distillery in 2012, he said that the restaurant, bar and distillery has had its ups and downs, but experienced a steep downturn as coronavirus reached Nevada.
“Business has been increasing and improving up until about four weeks ago, then everything started to get a little shaky and then obviously it fell off a cliff at the end of last week,” he said.
Adams said that he has 11 employees who he is trying to keep employed as long as he can. Even though Seven Troughs is still open and serving customers via curbside delivery and takeout orders, he said these adjustments have reduced the amount of tips workers receive — a hit for people who depend on that extra money to supplement their wages.
“Our staff is awesome. They really want to know what they can do to help and to keep our business family together, but they are scared about the future,” he said. “They know that they're looking at least probably a month. And very likely longer of dramatically reduced revenues.”
Adams added that many of his employees work two or three jobs, and he is trying to feed them but is unsure of how to sustain his efforts in the long-term.
“We want to see our employee base learn and grow with us, and I fear we're not going to be able to give them that opportunity,” he said.
In following guidance from the CDC and FDA, Adams said that the restaurant increased its cleaning regime by sterilizing everything from light switches to tabletops and moving to a contact-free food order and pick-up system.
Adams noted that he hopes the government can help businesses struggling because of COVID-19’s effect on the economy.
“I think they need to take every tool in their toolbox and get it out and use it. And if it's [universal basic income], let's do it. Let's get money in people's pockets. I think that they should have a moratorium right now on rent, interest payments and things like that,” he said. “We're talking about a minimum of 20 percent of the population that are not going to have jobs in the restaurant service industry … I think the government should be focusing also on emergency or easy money loans for small businesses so we can backstop some of this loss.”
Despite the struggles, Adams said he thinks asking people to socially distance themselves is a positive.
“I don't like the conversation that we hear that people think [coronavirus is] a hoax, because there are people in our community that are our customer base that are affected by this. And I think that as a group, as Americans, we've got to do everything we can to protect every member of our community,” he said. “So we know it's not just going to be an inconvenience. This is going to be a lifestyle change for a lot of folks. But it's something that we know we have to do.”