Breweries doing good during COVID-19

Despite pandemic challenges, Nova Scotian breweries are raising funds for non-profits

Josh Counsil, a co-founder of Halifax’s Good Robot Brewing, usually has a big goofy grin plastered across his face. But in this video, he looks tired and serious. It’s March 16, one day after Premier Stephen McNeil announced that bars and restaurants had to keep patrons and staff two metres apart at all times.

Earlier that morning, Good Robot’s team met to discuss how to operate under these conditions. Staff voted, and the co-founders decided to close the taproom room but continue offering beer and food to go. Delivery options followed about a week later.

The situation changed quickly. First distancing, then on March 17, the premier announced all bars and restaurants would close to the public effective March 19. “One of the challenging things [about the state of emergency] is you’re basically rolling out a new, imperfect business and rapidly developing it everyday, rather than putting the forethought in and launching it when you’re 80% comfortable with it, which is what our previous life was,” says Counsil. 

Despite all of these big changes, several Nova Scotian craft breweries are contributing to non-profits while keeping themselves afloat.

“When we shut down operations, I said, ‘OK we’re losing the events, we’re losing these fun other things we do, but what the hell is going to happen to Goodwill Bot?’ It’s so much of who we are,” says Counsil. Goodwill Bot donates $1 from every pint sold on Mondays to a local non-profit organization. Since 2016, it raised $60,000.

On Monday, April 13, Good Robot rolled out its first Goodwill Bot of the COVID-19 era, with $1 from each product purchased through online delivery going to Adsum Women and Children.

COVID-19 changed the way all businesses and non-profits operate, but those who provide shelter face additional challenges. “Our dozens of volunteers can no longer come to cook, we have closed our Déjà Vu store and stopped taking clothing and household donations,” says Kathy McNab, Adsum’s fund development and communications officer, in a press release.

The shelter needs an additional $20,000 to cover costs and to buy cellphones for clients still living in domestic violence situations so they can call 811 and 911.

The cut off for same day delivery is 6 p.m. and you can order here. The non-profit benefiting each week will be announced on Good Robot’s social media and you can see the total raised on the brewery’s website.

Rebecca Atkinson, owner of Sober Island Brewing, in Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia, is working on a fundraiser of her own. Atkinson’s designer swapped out the traditional boat in the company’s logo for a tiny cottage, and the company name for the message, “Stay at home”.

“‘Stay the Blazes Home’ took off and we realized we could put a message out there that says stay home, stay safe, we have to do this together, but separately at the same time. It’s obviously so incredibly important.”

Sober Island is selling shirts featuring the design until 9 a.m. April 14, with all profits going to the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation. As of Sunday, April 12, the project has raised about $2,000 but Atkinson hopes to see a higher number when pre-orders close. You can order here.

When COVID-19 hit Nova Scotia, Sober Island was already in a slow period. Atkinson’s brother, David, died suddenly on March 5, from a heart condition.

“I was already stepping back from the business and then this all started,” she says. “Do we brew? What’s going to happen? I was concerned that going to go into a state of emergency, they were going to shut down all retailers and not allow us to do deliveries. That hasn’t been the case so we’re pretty grateful. Everything happens so quickly with this thing and just trying to adapt on the timeline of all the regulations coming into place has been kind of tough too.”

During her brother’s time in the ICU, Atkinson remarked on how many of the staff working with him went to Dal, as did her father, who’s a physician. When she heard that the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation was focused on COVID-19 she knew where the money from T-shirts should go.

“[A vaccine] is going to be the biggest game changer in this crisis that we’re in, so any help we can offer.

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