NORWALK, Conn. — Ted Dumbauld and his partners at SoNo 1420, a local distillery, were celebrating the launch of their new “We Vodka” a little more than a month ago. The tables swiftly turned, as Dumbauld and his team saw their tasting room closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
So, they switched their manufacturing efforts pivot to a new product — hand sanitizer.
“I think we’ve given out more than 2,000 bottles so far,” he said Monday.
More than a week ago, Dumbauld decided to put together a sample batch based on the World Health Organization’s formula, which includes ethanol, hydrogen peroxide and glycerin, after hearing about shortages, he said.
“I made a small batch just to test it out, had some of our employees sample it, and it seemed to work really well, so then we made our first 10-liter batch last Sunday,” he said.
That’s when people started pouring in.
“We did have some containers in house — small 1-ounce bottles with droppers — so we filled several hundred of those and started giving them away,” he said. “By Wednesday, we were completely out of bottles. We had a lot of supply of the alcohol and the hand sanitizer — I knew that was going to happen — so on Monday last week, we ordered a bunch more containers, and we got our shipment in on Thursday, so we were able to start distributing again on Friday.”
While there’s been an outpouring of support for their efforts, Dumbauld said the most touching interactions have come from elderly members of the community.
“Some of the more heartbreaking experiences are some of the older folks that are most at risk,” he said. “They’re afraid, they’re concerned about getting out of their car, so they’ll call us and we assure them that if they just come to the front of our distillery and flash their lights, one of our employees will be happy to bring out to them the hand sanitizers and they’re just super, super grateful.”
They’ve also received calls from a variety of fire and police departments in the area, including ones from Norwalk, New Canaan, and Fairfield, asking for help stocking their sanitizer needs.
“They’re in dire need of hand sanitizer so we’ve been contributing to their efforts also, so I’m just amazed at how there’s no hand sanitizers out there, they’re really hard to come by so we’re fortunate we’re in a position where we can help out the community,” he said.
Dumbauld said that he and his team are using only ingredients that come with safety sheets from the manufacturer and are following WHO’s recipe to ensure the safety and quality of their products.
“The recipe comes from a very reputable source, so we know that if we follow the guidelines outlined by them, then the process and the final product is safe,” he said. “The second thing that we do is for each of the individual ingredients, there’s (items) called safety data sheets, which are provided by the manufacturers to tell the users of those ingredients how to safely handle them and what the potential risks are. We buy all of our products from reputable dealers that provide these safety data sheets. All of the individual components are safe, so we have the utmost confidence that the product we’re putting out is also safe.”
Besides giving away the 1-ounce bottles to the public, Dumbauld said they’re working on orders for bulk sanitizer for essential businesses that have to remain open, such as public transportation operations, delivery services, and laundromats. Those orders will also help them earn much needed revenue during this time, he said.
“They can’t find hand sanitizer, so we’re going to be manufacturing hand sanitizer in bulk and be able to sell it to businesses that are in operation, which will allow us to continue to pay our employees,” he said. “So, it’s a remarkable turn of events that none of us could have anticipated, just like none of us could have anticipated this whole pandemic.”
When the Governor announced that bars and restaurants had to close, Dumbauld said they had to let go some of their employees who worked solely in the tasting room.
“Our tasting room had to shutter up, so some of our employees, their full-time job was working in our tasting room, so it was just heartbreaking to have to tell folks that have been working for us for a year that there were no jobs available to them,” he said. “Then, all of a sudden, we started manufacturing this hand sanitizer and it requires a lot of labor to bottle up the hand sanitizer—making the sanitizer is easy, but to put it in a small bottles and label it, it takes some labor, so we were then able to offer all of our employees their jobs back essentially to help us manufacture.”
Dumbauld said they’ll continue to provide free hand sanitizer to the public for “as long as it’s necessary, which sounds like it could be a very long time.” Official hours for distribution will be posted on their social media pages: facebook.com/SoNo1420Distillers/ or instagram.com/sono1420/?hl=en