As Hartford’s own Hartford Flavor Company nears its five-year anniversary, the small business is celebrating its growth and looking forward to introducing new flavors of its all-natural liqueurs. But all that quickly changed with the severity of the coronavirus.

Co-Owner Lelaneia Dubay knew she could do something to help the community in crisis, so she switched operations from producing liqueur to making hand sanitizer. She took a few minutes to speak with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about the process.

NAN PRICE: It’s amazing that distilleries can change production to meet a demand for a much-needed product.

LELANEIA DUBAY: I never dreamed we’d be doing this. We had the idea two weeks ago and I had my daughter working on a formula but, at the time, producing hand sanitizer was prohibited.

On Monday March 16, we shut down our facility and I had to let my workers go. On Tuesday, we spent some more time thinking about how to produce hand sanitizer and I was going reach out to the federal government to find out about how to obtain permission. By Wednesday, we received an email from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) stating that, because of the mass shortages, permission was granted for distilleries inclined to produce hand sanitizer until June 30th, which is when the temporary licenses end.

We had already worked on the formula and the FDA provided some simple guidelines, so we threw ourselves into making handmade labels and bottling. Then, at midnight last Friday night, we received an email from the FDA that they had updated the guidelines, so we had to reformulate and redo all our labels to be ready for Saturday.

NAN: You managed to pull it off.

LELANEIA: Thankfully we did. On Saturday and Sunday, we had nonstop lines around the corner. We have intermittent lines—but there’s a line right out the door right now. We’re having orders come in from all the regional post offices in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Western Massachusetts. About 10 hospitals have contacted us and all the regional police departments. We’re running out of hand sanitizer, but we have more supplies on the way.

NAN: You’re not only selling, you’re donating, too.

LELANEIA: Yes. We’re using money from sales to buy more supplies to keep making more hand sanitizer. Portions of what we’re making from the general public are going toward donations to frontline people. For instance, we just donated a bunch of hand sanitizer to Interval House. The next time they come in, we’ll sell to them at half price so we can continue to pay for the supplies and keep our business afloat.

I was able to hire all my workers back. That’s huge. I actually need help and I’ll need to hire a couple more people if we’re going to meet the demand we have.

I’m just honored that I’m strategically placed where I can step up and help our community by filling a huge need. I’m also happy that we were able to convert to doing something to not only help the public but also to save our business.

NAN: Do you feel fairly confident your business will bounce back from this crisis?

LELANEIA: I do. Because booze is one of those essentials, right? Many people from the community have bought a bottle of hand sanitizer, thanked us, and told us they want to see us on the other side of this. That’s so touching. It takes a community and I have never felt closer to my Hartford community than now. It feels wonderful.

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