Happy Raptor Distilling Ready to Roar Despite COVID-19 Crisis
NEW ORLEANS – For the last five years, Mark Taliancich, Meagen Moreland-Taliancich and Peter Rivera have dreamed of making premium infused rum made from Louisiana molasses. In 2017, the trio officially incorporated Happy Raptor Distilling and spent the next two and a half years finalizing their business plan, renting and renovating an old, 2,000-square-foot warehouse near St. Charles Avenue and navigating the paperwork required to open a craft alcohol business. The name “Happy Raptor” was inspired by Mark and Meagen’s young son Zeek, who, according to Moreland-Taliancich, “sounded like one of those killer velociraptors from Jurassic Park … but happy.”
Unfortunately, a month later, the proprietors were ordered to close their tasting room as social distancing rules went into effect to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the global coronavirus pandemic that’s halted economies worldwide.
The timing was obviously not great but Moreland-Taliancich said, in a lot of ways, Happy Raptor was fortunate.
“As a manufacturer, we were very lucky to be allowed to stay open for to-go orders of pre-batch cocktails and bottles,” she said. “So far, we are operating heavily off the revenue we brought in during Mardi Gras and with only two additional weekends open to the public under our belt.”
Moreland-Taliancich said the distillery’s tasting room is selling slightly less than half of what it was before the crisis. The goal is to increase awareness of the to-go order business but it’s a challenge for several reasons.
“First, we are a brand new company,” said Moreland-Taliancich. “Second, the regular Facebook algorithms that have helped us spread the word and build our following are overwhelmed with coronavirus updates. And, third, every small business and restaurant in town is going through the same thing.”
The Happy Raptor still is not suitable for making hand sanitizer, but the company is planning to help in other ways. It will contribute all of its tour tips for the remainder of 2020 to the United States Bartenders’ Guild Foundation assisting industry members affected by the pandemic, and it’s released a limited-run T-shirt with 100% of profits going to the same foundation.
Moreland-Taliancich said that, in a sense, being a new business was a good thing under the circumstances.
“In a roundabout way, we are very lucky because we are not in a position to worry about layoffs,” she said. “Right now – we are simply chugging ahead (pardon the pun) with all our might in an effort to keep our costs to a bare minimum and hopefully wait out the storm.
“Most notably, even in our short time open, we have built a good relationship with the neighborhood and many of our neighbors have come out to support us. Without that confidence in us, we absolutely would be in a different position today. We’re also extremely blessed to have a strong network in the Louisiana Distiller’s Guild. Their support and collaboration has made our business possible from the very beginning.”
The goal now for Moreland-Taliancich and partners is to get through the uncertain times and then get back to launching their dream business.
“We started Happy Raptor because of a love of our community,” she said. “Rum is a beautiful, local product, but the real value of a craft rum is how it brings people together and creates a space for friendship and memories. This is a really hard and confusing situation. It’s important that we all practice self-care, acknowledge the difficulty of the situation, and prioritize. Many of us are working twice as hard with ten times the stress for half (or less) of the revenue. All we can do is support each other, keep our heads up, and don’t be afraid to ask for help where it’s available.”