Businesses Retool In Face Of New Reality

Owning Copperwing Distillery in St. Louis Park means that one thing that Brian Idlekope, Kyle Kettering and Chris Palmisano have no shortage of is alcohol. Due to the coronavirus, one thing that almost everyone is short on is hand sanitizer.

So in the wake of the crisis, Kettering is going to begin producing house-made hand sanitizer at the distillery, with hopes that the initial batch for the public will be ready next week.

“The primary reason is to help local businesses in need to continue their daily ops,” Kettering said. “We have bulk spirits at 192 proof in a container – hundreds of gallons worth. It’s really just buying the other ingredients and mixing together. It’s quite simple for us.”

Copperwing is just one of the several Jewish-owned businesses that are changing their business or business model to in the wake of social-distancing.

As the founder of Language Sprout, Rebecca Wilson Schwenger and her staff are used to working in classrooms to teach children foreign languages. Now, given that classrooms have become desks, kitchen tables and couches, Schwenger found herself quickly adapting her business.

Schwenger has adapted her platform not only to teach kids online, but doing so at no cost – going from a brick-and-mortar business to an online one in less than 24 hours. The only programs that will come at a cost will be private online lessons.

“We need to get classes online so kids have continuity,” Schwenger said. “When dealing with language, it’s a very contact-based subject. I thought we were in a good position to just flip this, get it online, and be inclusive – not just for kids here, but kids everywhere.”

Both Kettering and Schwenger have had separate hurdles to clear.

Kettering learned that hand sanitizer is a Food and Drug Administration over the counter drug, which only licensed facilities, or producers with licenses, can make and sell. He said they were pretty reluctant to go down that path, but got Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) approval – which clears the path to make the sanitizer. But it’s still unclear whether they can sell it.

“We couldn’t survive if we just give away,” Kettering said. They are taking donations via a GoFundMe page for their Hand Sanitzer For Heroes campaign that will go towards making hand sanitizer for the Long Lake Fire Department and other first responders. They do have small bottles that they offer with with the purchase of the Copperwing bottled spirits sold in their tasting room, which is open for bottle sales only, with one customer allowed in at a time. “It will help prevent spread of the disease, and we want to help. We just can’t take further financial risk because we’re limited in money-making abilities with the tasting room closed.”

Kettering first made a small batch for use in-house after hearing about an Oregon distillery doing the same last week. Since then Vikre in Duluth has made in-house sanitizer, as have distilleries in Chicago, Denver, and Atlanta.

Schwenger realized for their online story times that she didn’t have a large supply of English children’s books.

“I have five kids so I thought I’d have more in English but it turns out I only read to them in a foreign language,” she said – thanking Barnes & Noble for opening early so she could stock up. “We don’t usually do English because the school system does such a good job with [English as a second language], classes. But the same thing is happening to kids in Europe and Latin America. It’s a time to come together as a community. Not just the Minnesotan community, but as a global community to provide resources to help each other.

“The goal is to show up for everybody, the more the merrier. Our motto is to show up and be the sunshine in someone’s day. The whole staff on board with that.”

Schwenger and her team write all their own materials and have textbooks for sale on Amazon.

“We couldn’t find anything we thought was exceptional to teach younger kids languages, so we published our own,” she said. “In terms of new material. Our team has been working like crazy so haven’t been thinking about the pandemic. In the end, I think we’ll come out as a more versatile, better-organized organization.”

Schwenger is looking to incorporate other languages into her offerings – she suggested Hebrew, Russian, German, and Japanese – now that the infrastructure is in place.

“We’re happy to share our love of language with everyone,” she said. “I want to start a language revolution so that being bilingual isn’t rare in the U.S.”

We posed the question to other Jewish professionals on the JLink Facebook page about how they are adapting their businesses to the current situation. Check out some of what they’re doing!