Dinosaurs Making Rum in Central City
Launching two weeks before the pandemic lockdown in March 2020 was not great timing for any business – but for Happy Raptor Distilling, that particular cloud was not without its silver lining.
“Even in the shutdown, people were still buying alcohol,” recounted Mark Taliancich, CEO and Head Distiller, in something of an understatement.
Few people know that in order to open a distillery in Louisiana, one must have a distribution agreement in place before the State will approve the business license. While this creates the classic chicken-and-egg conundrum, trying to line up a distributor before having a product to distribute, Happy Raptor was able to partner with James Moises of Bizou Distributors.
This paved the way for the February 2020 opening in Central City, just in time for the first Mardi Gras parades that year. Happy Raptor got off to a flying start, only to be grounded two weeks later.
“Fortunately, we have a dual license, meaning we can sell on and off premises,” explained Taliancich. “So we could still sell bottles and batches of pre-mixed cocktails. I went to Walmart and started buying mason jars, and we started pushing pickup. That and some hand sanitizer is what got us through the deep part of the shutdown.”
At first, Taliancich and his wife Meagen Moreland-Taliancich were the only two staff, and he was still working a full-time job as well. Now, having survived the pandemic and come back stronger than ever, Happy Raptor has ten full- and part-time employees, and is distributed in upwards of 45 locations.
Happy Raptor distills unique rums. The Taliancichs got married on the island of Martinique, and in the course of celebrating, acquainted themselves with the local tradition of infusing their rums with local citrus, spices and botanicals. Transferring this approach to New Orleans, their 504Rum line includes flavors such as hibiscus, bananas foster and king cake. Each is hand-crafted using 100% local, natural ingredients.
Happy Raptor takes an equally unique approach to its marketing. “Nonprofits can use our space for fundraising events for free,” Taliancich said. “We’re averaging two to four events per month. It gets more people knowing about us and it helps the organizations.”
Customer experience and customer loyalty are also key focuses for the company. From arts markets to trivia nights, Happy Raptor keeps a steady flow of events going on in the tasting room. Distillery tours are offered by appointment, and chances are good that visitors will find that their tour guide is also a local stand-up comedian. Food trucks set up at the tasting room most nights.
The “Raptor Rewards” loyalty program awards a point for each purchase of $25 or more, and five points earns the customer a free bottle of rum or batch of four pre-mixed cocktails.
Of course, the first question most people ask is, “about that name?” The Taliancich’s oldest child was known to shriek like a velociraptor from a certain popular movie when excited; not surprisingly, some of the trivia nights have a “Jurassic Park” theme to them.
The best way to connect with Happy Raptor is through their website, www.happyraptor.com. In addition to information on hours, products and events, the site includes an extensive list of drink recipes, many of them concocted by the staff.
“I’m not a mixologist, I make the rum,” observed Taliancich. “All of our staff know that if they want to come up with a new drink, we’ll test it, and if we like it, it goes on the menu. We’re happy to share the recipes, because if people want to make the drinks, they have to use our rums.”
This is another example of good marketing on a tight budget, and Taliancich credits his partner for all this. Her background includes working with both nonprofit and for-profit organizations, and even a stint doing public relations for the local French Consulate.
Happy Raptor is part of a blossoming craft distillery scene in the New Orleans area, which Taliancich sees as a plus. “We’re about ten years behind the brewery boom. We all make very different things, and people who go to distilleries generally want to go to more than one. There’s more cooperation than competition. There’s a lot of room to grow for everyone.”
As for its own growth, Happy Raptor has just launched a line of syrups, similar to the mixes used to infuse the rums, as a way to provide their distinct flavors to people who do not drink alcohol. They are ideal for jazzing up lemonade or fruit juices.
“Our product really is unique,” Taliancich proclaimed. “It’s infused but not too sweet. You have to try it.”