Tristan Johnson

As Louisiana is in phase 2 of reopening, we decided to talk to some local business leaders within New Orleans about how they believe quarantine has gone and what they have learned. Working through COVID has been difficult and posed a new set of challenges. We’ve all had to adapt in one way or another whether that’s in our professional lives or personal lives. It’s been particularly difficult for small businesses learning to navigate through PPP loans, trying to maintain staff and being uncertain of when businesses can fully reopen. New Orleans once again shows its resilience during this tough time and has continued to band together to begin what is hopefully a safe re-entry into normalcy.

Tristan Johnson is the General Manager of Seven Three Distilling Company, makers of St. Roch Vodka, Gentilly Gin, Black Pearl Rum, and other spirits inspired by the seventy-three neighborhoods of New Orleans. Most recently, he has shifted focus to include hand sanitizer production as the distillery adapts in the wake of COVID-19.

What impact has COVID-19 had on your businesses?
Like so many, it’s staggering how different our business looks compared to four months ago. Much of the business at our Claiborne Avenue facility is driven by distillery tours, which often include visits to our tasting room bar. And throughout Louisiana, New Orleans especially, we owe so much of our success to the bars, restaurants, and hospitality workers who have passionately advocated for our spirits these last few years. These are both pivotal parts of our business and we’ve had to adapt to a world without them.

What changes have your businesses had to make to adapt to quarantine?
We pivoted swiftly into hand sanitizer production, which was a tremendous amount of work to pull off, but I can’t express how fortunate we are to have had the ability to adapt. Diving into an entirely new industry while navigating a pandemic gives you the perpetual feel of building the plane mid-flight. But it’s kept our doors open, and it’s allowed us a truly meaningful way to give back to the community during such a critical time. We’re used to offering up our spirits for community events, fundraisers, and other donations, we’re so thrilled we’ve had the means to continue doing that with sanitizer.

Were there any resources or advice you gave your employees to help them during this time?
The immediate shift into sanitizer production gave us tremendous flexibility in helping our staff through this time. We had plenty of shifts available for those who wanted them, while those who preferred to remain at home were able to do so until they were comfortable returning. Our production line processes were modified with social distancing in mind, and we set team members experiencing symptoms up with medical consultations. Our efforts would be nothing without the dedication of our team, and our goal is always to put them first.

What advice would you give to other business owners specifically in New Orleans about how to restart business when quarantine is over?
There’s nothing more important than the health and safety of your staff and customers. So listen to them. Get their feedback. We’re all adapting to a completely different way of doing business and there’s real opportunity now to evolve our practices in really impactful ways, for the remainder of the pandemic and long after.

Though this is a tough time, what has inspired optimism for you and your businesses moving forward?
Is there a better source of optimism than watching how the people of New Orleans rise to meet a crisis? We’ve seen such tremendous efforts from across our community and day in and day out this is something that keeps me going.

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