Above photo: Nathaly Nairn: bringing the cider to you
It’s amazing to think through the last six months – yes, March was six months ago – and not be humbled by what has happened to our world.
Nathaly and I were talking about how swiftly our worlds changed during the second and third week of March. The first week of March, we were astonished by how fast the coronavirus ripped through Italy. The second week, we watched as it took hold here in North America. My family enjoyed a great day of skiing up at Whistler one weekend and the next week, the virus seriously took hold. That Saturday, Vancouver’s brewery tasting rooms, restaurants, and bars had one of their biggest days of the year. Some brewery friends recorded their biggest revenue days since opening. Sunday, Whistler shut down. Monday, the bars and restaurants shut down. Tuesday, we were in lockdown.
The 24-hour news cycle changed as lockdown after lockdown was announced, Donald Trump held the most astonishing press conferences, and our Prime Minister’s wife was diagnosed with the disease. It wasn’t a 24-hour cycle anymore, it was hourly. And it was scary.
2020 was to be a big year for us at Windfall Cider. We doubled our sales in 2019 over 2018, and 2020 was going to be a breakout year–a triple over the last year. Good fortune allowed us to front-run over half of our production for the year late in February, but we were now sitting on pallet after pallet of canned product and over 250 full kegs that we looked increasingly unlikely to be able to sell. No-one knew if the lockdown was going to last for a month, two months, or six months.
We’d gotten fairly close to the group that opened Container Brewing over the previous months: Terry, Dan, Katie and the rest of the team. My wife, Nathaly, and I had visited the brewery regularly since they opened in November and had good conversations about business that formed friendships. Their tasting room was now closed, their keg accounts were done, and there was no way of knowing how long their liquor store contacts would still be ordering their beer. We faced much the same prospect, as did every single small beverage operation in the province and across the country.
The lockdown happened on a Monday. We had a home delivery option up and running by Wednesday, teaming up with Container Brewing, Sundown Brewing and later Powell Brewing. Deliveries included our cider, beer from the three breweries, and Girl Guide Cookies, which turned out to be a big hit!
It’s hard to overstate how important this pivot was to our business, our family rhythm, and our sanity during that two-month lockdown. It certainly helped generate some much-needed cash flow for all our businesses and it gave us something to do every day besides home schooling our 10-year-old daughter.
We came to a point of delivering two days a week as we divided the work between all the organizations. From nine to noon every day was home schooling, then putting together deliveries at Container. Our social bubble during those two months of lockdown included the skeleton staff of each of the breweries. Our favourite part of the day was being at home at 7 pm, cheering and making noise for healthcare workers. Our nook at Woodland and 10th Avenue was particularly boisterous.
A day of deliveries took us through most of the city and many outlying areas. We put a lot of mileage on as things ramped up over the first two weeks of our lockdown, and would eventually have two drivers on the road during peak days. I’ve talked to many people since things began to reopen. Those who were still commuting to their workplaces felt like they were moving around a ghost town. Streets were empty. Buildings were boarded up. On delivery days, we almost had the road to ourselves, but were there still some crazies on the road. Speeding, U-turns, running lights and stop signs, you name it. Traffic decorum went out the window in those times.
Every one of us came away from the experience with some interesting stories. Delivering to folks that lived alone and hadn’t been out of their houses for days or weeks meant that our arrival was a breath of fresh air—almost literally. We maintained our distance and made contactless deliveries, but they wanted updates about what things were like “out there”. What does Robson Street look like? How is the transit system working? And the kind lady that passed me a tip at the end of a long stick.
Our work as delivery drivers kept our businesses in touch with our customers at a time when we and they needed it the most. We became better businesspeople with a much more engaged sense of what “direct to consumer” marketing meant and how better to adjust our web presence and apps like Instagram to generate incremental sales. But what it boiled down to is that our respective delivery services kept us moving, focused, and alive during this strange period in our lives. It also gained all of us some good friendships. Our group became the faces that we saw, the only people we could talk to directly, joke with, and enjoy, for months.
We still operate our respective delivery services. We’re down from seven days a week to three. We’ve shrunk our delivery area to focus more on our core region of Vancouver proper. And we’ve noticed that our typical delivery patron has changed as well. It’s no longer someone who couldn’t leave their home, but someone looking for a convenient way to get their cider or beer.
I’m still dealing with the after-effects of all of this. It’s been hard to watch the world turn upside-down in such a short period of time. People leaping out of your way as you walked down the sidewalk. The constant paranoia of catching a disease that has affected a very small portion of the local population. The sudden closure of the economy and the hobbling of almost every business that we know. This has been a crisis that hit very close to home as we saw some of our favourite establishments hit hard. Congratulations to all for getting through this mess and staying the course in the face of adversity.
If cider is your thing, we’re happy. If it isn’t, be sure to check out Container Brewing, Sundown Brewing, and Powell Brewing—their beer is amazing!