Community spirit: Area distillers create sanitizer to help stop spread of virus

easySpeak owner Marissa Cordell arranges bottles of hand sanitizer created by the Milford restaurant. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

MILFORD — When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic started to become all too real in Delaware just a couple of weeks ago, Zach King and Marissa Cordell — owners of easySpeak Spirits in Milford — witnessed first-hand just how quickly things were changing in the world.

For them, the epiphany occurred when they were on their way to see Zach’s father, who was in the hospital and requested hand sanitizer when they visited.

“When Zach’s dad was in the hospital (two weeks ago), he asked us to bring hand sanitizer,” Ms. Cordell said. “We stopped at every store and couldn’t find any. We came home after our visit and Zach made if for him. Then we started making it and selling it, once we saw a need in the community.”

Now, with newly imposed state regulations keeping them from opening their easySpeak restaurant and distillery to the public during the coronavirus outbreak, making hand sanitizer has become a nice little side business to “help keep the lights on,” according to Mr. King.

It is also helping provide a vital need to several other businesses, organizations and the community — which is something the family-owned business is quite proud of.

“We’re just trying to be proactive and as people started using (the sanitizer) and asking for it we started making more,” Mr. King said. “(Marissa’s) Facebook post a couple of weeks ago kind of ramped it up from there and state agencies and police departments started to call us, (Georgetown’s) CHEER Center is picking up quite a bit, along with some nursing homes and things like that.

“It’s great. It keeps the light on here while we’re crippled a little bit with the (state’s) regulations, and it keeps people safe. We’re just trying to make as much sanitizer as possible, so we don’t have to tell anyone ‘no.’ We want our direct community and state to be safe and we want to be healthy.”

Right now, for Ms. Cordell, the new normal is having her cell phone ring almost constantly as people search for the ever-elusive hand sanitizer.

“We started distilling our vodka to be hand sanitizer about a week-and-a-half to two weeks ago,” she said. “We did it just because places became short with it, so we were using it around our restaurant for our customers.

“Being a distillery we are lucky enough to have this under our belt and able to use ethanol to make hand sanitizer, so we’ve been using it to wipe down everything and then the next thing we know, there’s a huge shortage, so now we have a bunch of big companies who are reaching out to us for it, needing gallons and gallons of it.”

EasySpeak Spirits, at 586 Milford-Harrington Highway in Milford, sells its hand sanitizer for $3 for a 3-ounce travel-sized bottle, $6 for an 8-ounce bottle and, for those larger projects, $65 a gallon. They recommend people seeking larger orders to text 302-858-1875.

easySpeak distiller Stephen Bell Jr. mixes a batch of hand sanitizer for customers.

The distillery, which is also now operating as a takeout restaurant and sanitizer factory, is open noon until 9 p.m. from Monday through Friday. It also offers a takeout menu for food and spirits and hand sanitizer is free to those customers who purchase to-go orders.

Ms. Cordell said it is their way of thanking their customers for continuing to support small businesses. “We hope people keep coming out, because who knows how long this will last. As long as we have sanitizer, we’ll hand it out. And then we’ll make more.”

They have been making a lot of it over the past week.

“We have a lot of people putting in large, large orders, so we’d like people to give us a call in advance if they have a large order because it’s going to take a little while to get ready,” Ms. Cordell said. “We’re doing about 100 gallons (a day) and then we have a shipment coming in next week and we’re going to do about 500 gallons next week for a certain company. It just depends on the need.”

The business has donated some of its hand sanitizer, which also contains aloe and essential oils and lotions in order to keep skin dry, to hospitals in the Milford area.

Ms. Cordell said the past two weeks have not only been a whirlwind — but a wakeup call.

“A lot of people are like, ‘This is how you know that you are real entrepreneurs,’” she said. “You have to do what you have to do. The shutdown has been terrifying for a lot of local businesses, including us. Now, we’re using the time to do some renovations and sell hand sanitizer. We’d have never expected that a month ago.”,

Judging from the comments on easySpeak’s Facebook page, their new hand sanitizer business is a hit.

“You are doing a great service to your community,” Patricia Kurywka wrote. “Wish someone would do this in the Albany, N.Y. area. We are able to get takeout food but are in dire need of hand sanitizer.”

Dogfish joins sanitizing ranks

On Friday the state announced that it is partnering with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery to make much-needed hand sanitizer available to the state government.

Dogfish Head began distilling spirits in Delaware in 2002 and has now committed part of its operations to also make hand sanitizer.
Much like the owners of easy Speak, Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head, never envisioned that aspect of the business.

“I never thought Dogfish Head would be in the sanitizer business,” Mr. Calagione said. “But this is a time of crisis, and necessity is the mother of invention. It is our duty to do what we can to keep as many people safe and healthy in our community.”

Maria Dodds of Long Neck, right, stops by easySpeak to purchase a bottle of their hand sanitizer from owner Marissa Cordell.

Dogfish Head will be providing bulk shipments to the state in the weeks to come.

“Dogfish Head is one of Delaware’s great small business success stories,” Gov. John Carney said. “It’s great to see this nationally known company, with its roots in Delaware, step up in a time of such significant need to provide this vital product and assist Delaware restaurant workers who’ve been affected so significantly by the coronavirus outbreak.”

Dogfish Head will sell the sanitizer to the state of Delaware at market price, and 100 percent of the profits will go into a fund to support Delawareans affected by the coronavirus. The priority for now, officials said, is providing the product to healthcare facilities and first responders.

While the Dogfish production brewery and distillery remain open in Milton, Mr. Calagione has closed Dogfish Head Inn, Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats, Chesapeake & Maine and the brewery’s Tasting Room & Kitchen.

On Thursday, March 12, Gov. Carney issued a State of Emergency declaration to mobilize state resources to prepare for the spread of coronavirus across Delaware. On Monday, March 16, he updated that order to require restaurants, taverns and bars move to take-out and delivery service only.

Painted Stave lending hand to first responders

Painted Stave Distilling in Smyrna is also getting into the hand sanitizer act after making its first 65 gallons on Saturday, according to the businesses’ Facebook page.

The company is also taking orders for spirits on its website, Bottles and select cocktails are listed. It is also still accepting walk-ins and pickups can only occur during its new business hours, which are Sunday through Thursday, noon to 5 pm, and Friday and Saturday, noon until 7 pm.

Painted Stave said it is waiting on bottles of hand sanitizer to be delivered before it can send it over to the Smyrna Police Department. They plan on eventually filling gallon jugs for other high-risk communities. They say they will be prioritizing getting it to first responders and medical personal first, but it will also supply it to the public at some point if it is able to.

“As we get supplies and can make more batches we will start releasing it to groups who have reached out,” Painted Stave Distilling wrote on its Facebook page. “First Responders, the medical community, and military will be top of the list as they will have the most contact with at risk populations.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.