Hand Sanitizer and Outdoor Seating: How Ellison Brewing and Red Cedar Spirits Have Adapted during the Pandemic

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Photo courtesy of Red Cedar Spirits.

The new patio at Red Cedar Spirits.

Despite being closed for months, Red Cedar Spirits (2000 Merritt Road, between Park Lake Road and Haslett Road) and Ellison Brewery + Spirits (located at 4903 Dawn Avenue, East Lansing), have remained hopeful, focused on customer safety, and giving back to the community.

Langston Whitaker, Assistant Manager has been at Red Cedar Spirits for almost three years, has seen the bar’s patio become the main attraction every summer. Recently, the distillery took a few days away from pouring drinks and selling sanitizer for a patio upgrade. 

“The patio was asphalt – kind of broken in certain areas, we had umbrellas sprinkled through for covering, but if it rained, it didn’t really keep you covered,” Whitaker said. “We’re moving away from asphalt to concrete. We have a moveable bar we can use outside and adding shade sails overtop for more coverage.”

As for patrons that utilize the outside patio, they can expect to wear masks unless seated at the table, consuming their beverages. Tables are spaced far apart, to allow adequate walking space between. There are gel hand sanitizer stations leading to the bathroom, and a few outside as well. Staff will be masked, and social distancing measures will be followed. There is no dining or drinking inside the bar at this time.

From their closure in mid-March (before Executive orders closed bars) to reopening at less than half-capacity, Whitaker said “business isn’t what we’ve built it up to be, but we know it’ll come with time once everything is completely safe. There were a decent amount of our patrons that were a little older, which makes sense why they’d hold off.”

Red Cedar Spirits didn’t skip a beat in gift shop sales – many commercial and residential customers stopped in for sanitizer. In fact, increasing production of hand sanitizer was returning to their roots.

“It has been a little different, luckily we’ve had a foot in the sanitizer business for over a decade,” Whitaker said. “Hand sanitizer, amongst other things, are by-products of our distillation process.”

The transition to make hand sanitizer was a simple one, according to Whitaker, but keeping up with the demand was not an easy task. They’ve donated sanitizer to shelters and frontline workers. Whitaker said that has been the biggest positive takeaway for the local distillery. 

For Ellison Brewery + Spirits, the pandemic has also shifted business. Ellison General Manager Lindi LaDrig said the taproom was closed for service on March 16, and it reopened at half-capacity on June 9.

“We stayed open to produce and sell hand sanitizer, to-go spirits and 4-packs. Curbside pickup was also added during this time,” LaDrig said. “The whole production, sales, and taproom team were not working during this time. Everything was run singlehandedly by the owner Aaron Hanson.”

LaDrig said the three-month shutdown impacted nearly every facet of the business – from production, distribution, staff, and taproom sales. Customers that visit the brewery will notice a few changes in the taproom, the first being less seating for patrons. Staff are all required to wear mask and gloves, contactless menus are utilized, sanitizer stations scattered throughout, extra signage of rules, limited hours, and less staff working at a time. 

The local East Lansing community really rose to the occasion, according to LaDrig, to show love for the brewery. “We had a huge support from local police stations, hospitals, fire departments, and our regular customers to try and help us stay in business,” she said. “Small business shopping during this time is more essential than ever to keep the small businesses in business.”

In return, Ellison also donated hand sanitizer to local fire and police departments, hospitals and surrounding nursing homes. 

Although their current capacity limit is operating at just 25 people in the bar at a time, LaDrig said customers are enjoying to-go cocktails, bottled spirits, 4-packs, and growler options. Currently, there’s some “exciting changes happening” with the food truck, but customers are allowed to bring their own food – and can eat on the outside patio as well.

“The Ellison team has grown immensely stronger together during this extremely unknown and difficult time,” LaDrig said. “We appreciate all the support we have had from the community and awesome patrons.”

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