There Will be Rum
Born during the pandemic, Happy Raptor is fighting on thanks to a supportive community.
Only hours before the first Uptown Mardi Gras parade on Feb.14, 2020, with hope and a solid business plan, Peter Rivera, Meagen Moreland-Taliancich and Mark Taliancich proudly opened the doors to their new distillery, Happy Raptor. One month later, the pandemic shut down businesses in Orleans Parish.
Slow-forward to one year later, the company has survived and is preparing to cautiously celebrate its first anniversary. The business, located in an historic building that features a 2,000-square-foot production space and tasting room with an adjacent back patio, employs two full-time employees, two part-time employees and six bartenders.
Happy Raptor’s signature line of 504Rum is inspired by rhum arrangé, a Caribbean style of creating hearty, full-flavored white rum infused for days or weeks with real botanicals, fruits and spices. Its products never contain artificial ingredients or unnecessary added sweetening.
“Even though we opened Happy Raptor at potentially the worst possible time, we got to see the heart of New Orleans this year,” said Moreland-Taliancich. “We survived 2020 because of neighbors and partners who didn’t know us at all. Yes, the rum is amazing, but these folks often went completely out of their way in the hardest of times to support us or collaborate with us because we were local, and our business is new. This is rare to find in other cities, and our experience this year has absolutely shaped the future of our business.”
Almost every week has been different for the new company. It’s entire plan for growth last year was basically thrown out the window and the team started over one month at a time.
“We’ve had lots of frustration, but we’ve also had some major wins,” said Moreland-Taliancich. “We grew much faster than we’d originally thought, we found a wonderful niche in the market with our pre-batched cocktails for pickup, and we were able to take a moment to more thoughtfully build our team and the foundation of our business.”
Mark Taliancich believes the hardest part of the past year has been the constant need to pivot and find new sources of revenue, as well as balance personal and professional stress.
“We offer a big discount to frontline employees, including folks in healthcare, hospitality and teachers,” he said. “During the worst parts of the shutdown in March and April, we greeted so many tired faces at the end of the day — especially healthcare workers at the end of their shift coming by to grab a cocktail to take home. It has been a lot to process.”
Last year, Happy Raptor also partnered with more than 20 nonprofit organizations and donated more than $10,000 worth of funds, hand sanitizer and goods back to the local community. Recently, they were awarded the Culture Award by Love Your City NOLA for their support of local artists and vendors.
“As a small distillery, we strongly believe that New Orleans businesses have a responsibility to support each other,” said Rivera. “We are lucky to live in a city where our community as a whole understands the value of partnership and collaboration. It impacts our success at every stage of our production process, even down to the neighbors who bring us local bananas for our 504Bananas Foster infusion.”
The company recently announced the release of its newest infused rum, 504King Cake. Made with 100% Louisiana molasses, 504King Cake begins as a flavorful white rum infused with real pecans, hand-cut orange peel, vanilla and cinnamon sticks for several days. In keeping with king cake tradition, the new infusion is a seasonal release for Carnival.
“We owe our company’s survival this year to the New Orleans community,” said Moreland-Taliancich. “We hand crafted this rum thoughtfully as a celebration of the neighbors and partners who pulled us through and kept our spirits going this year.”
Happy Raptor will celebrate this release with a series of socially-distant events and programming through Mardi Gras day – Raptor Gras 2021 – in partnership with numerous local artists, vendors, and food pop-ups, as well as a bicycle tour of decorated house floats hosted by locally-founded tour comd Paradise. In addition, Happy Raptor is partnering with the Krewe of House Floats’ Central City sub-krewe as a donation drop-off location benefiting Second Harvest Food Bank.
“I love that we’re able to reinvest in our community in a real way by doing something we love,” said Moreland-Taliancich. “We don’t have much, but at least we have the freedom to get creative! For example, our event space is free for nonprofits and we try our best to say yes to every request we receive for a donation of goods or services.”
The company has several new products in the works for release over the next couple of years and it hopes to grow distribution throughout Louisiana.
“We look forward to expanding our community outreach,” said Taliancich. “That’s not to mention a long list of initiatives to help us be the best neighbor we can be, especially in terms of equity, sustainability and benefits support for our staff.”