In Edible-Alpha® podcast #74, Tera chats with Marie Raboin, co-founder with husband Matt of Brix Cider in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Four years after launching a wholesale cider business and a year and a half after opening a taproom and farm-to-table restaurant, Marie explains how her company pivoted strategies in response to COVID-19.
Before delving into the pandemic’s impacts, Marie shares their struggles securing a building for the taproom. Once Brix Cider found its home in downtown Mount Horeb, a village of about 7,500 residents southwest of Madison, the cidery opened in January 2019—smack in the middle of a polar vortex. The cold weather kept business slow through April, but by patio season, it was rocking. The community fell in love with the revolving menu of top-quality ciders, locally sourced farm-to-table eats, live music and film screenings. By early 2020, Brix Cider had hit its stride.
Then came COVID-19. Devastated but determined not to put staff and clientele at risk, Marie and Matt made the hard call to close on March 13, ahead of most restaurants in the county and before the governor issued his stay-at-home order. The next day, the couple thought long and hard about next steps. With about 25 farmers relying on their orders, they wanted to avoid cutting off their vendors’ revenue stream while also keeping their own lights on.
Marie and Matt hatched a plan: They’d turn the taproom into a food hub to distribute their partnering farmers’ meat, dairy, produce and other goods to the community. Matt built an e-commerce site, and within days, Brix was taking orders for weekly boxes, packing them onsite and offering touchless curbside pickup or delivery within a 10-mile radius.
Brix’s pandemic pivot was a success. Weekly orders kept increasing. Community members had easy access to super-fresh, sustainably produced foods. Farmers had an alternative sales channel to make up for the suspended Brix orders. The company even partnered with the Mount Horeb food pantry to give financially strained community members access to this high-quality food.
As the quarantine restrictions eased up and the weather warmed, grocery orders slowed down. Midsummer, Brix reopened the taproom for outdoor cider sipping and dining. Along with maintaining weekly box orders, they also converted the indoor space into a co-op for the community to shop for locally produced groceries.
Marie isn’t sure what will come next for Brix. Much of that depends on the virus, the safety measures businesses must follow and consumer shopping and dining habits during the ongoing recession. Brix secured multiple government grants and loans to fuel operations, and Marie and Matt have a few game plans ready for winter to keep them afloat until the taproom business picks up again in the summer. But like most food companies today, they are facing many unknowns.
For now, though, Brix Cider is getting by while maintaining its vendor relationships and building stronger ties to the community. This company proves that with innovation, collaboration and a willingness to pivot, businesses can weather storms such as COVID and set themselves up for long-term success.