While drinkers in Florida can no longer belly up to a bar for a burger and an Old Fashioned during the coronavirus crisis, a Tampa restaurant is packaging hard-to-find bottles of bourbon with bags of fresh groceries and a roll of toilet paper.
Whiskey enthusiasts from across the Tampa Bay area are flocking to the Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar to snag the quarantine kits.
The restaurant at International Plaza is pairing Eagle Rare, Blanton’s and Buffalo Trace with kits of proteins, vegetables or dairy. To get the elusive bottles, customers must also buy a quarantine kit for about $30. So far, the promotion in its second week has taken off.
“We didn’t know what this was going to turn into,” said bar manager Aaron Kornhauser, adding that all tips are going to furloughed employees. “We wanted to think outside the box.”
On March 20, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an emergency order for all bars and nightclubs to close for 30 days, but the bars that also sold food could remain open and only sell food for that period. He also ordered all restaurants to shift to takeout or delivery service.
The emergency order was designed to tamp down on the spread of the coronavirus when people gathered in crowded businesses. The public crisis led to thousands of hospitality workers losing jobs.
Some liquor licenses allow bars and restaurants to sell full bottles for package sales.
Whiskey Cake, Kornhauser said, was operating with a skeleton crew and didn’t want to offer carryout food because it’s an unpredictable business plan.
That’s when Whiskey Cake realized it could still get trucks of food each day from a distributor. It then asked Republican National Distributing Co. to increase the amount of allocated liquor bottles to the restaurant. More bottles are available because of the restaurant and bar closures, Kornhauser said.
Whiskey is no longer your grandfather’s drink.
In the culture of whiskey chasers, the bottles in the quarantine kits aren’t heavy hitters like Pappy Van Winkle, W.L. Weller 12-year or Elmer T. Lee. But the feverish hunt for bourbon isn’t limited to high-end bottles. Thousands of whiskey connoisseurs scour big-box stores and mom-and-pop retailers for bottles of Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare and Sazerac Rye priced between $20 and $50.
When sold at normal prices, they disappear from shelves. Many stores double prices to increase profits.
For two weeks, Whiskey Cake has been posting the quarantine kits on social media. The kits change depending on what food Whiskey Cake gets from its supplier.
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A $35 protein kit on Tuesday, for example, included a brined and marinated whole chicken, two sirloin steaks, pulled chicken and a pork brisket. A $15 produce kit contained enough vegetables for an entire family, according to a flier. A gallon of milk, one dozen eggs, butter and bread make up a $15 dairy kit. Customers can add a slice of Whiskey cake for $8.
“We’re making enough to keep the lights on,” Kornhauser said, noting that two employees have returned to work. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
The promotion hasn’t been without critics. Several criticized the $100 price for Blanton’s, which typically costs about $60. One man on social media blasted the restaurant on Wednesday because the eatery opened before its scheduled time after a handful of people lined up for six bottles of coveted Stagg Jr. bourbon.
“Moving forward, we will NOT post any bottles the night prior to avoid running into this situation again,” Kornhauser told people on Facebook.
Other customers have lauded the promotion.
Joshua Moushon of Tampa said he and his girlfriend bought several bottles of wine with bacon and pork briskets, adding: “The deal was good. We got a few meals out of the kit and some staples for the week.”
Sean Jennison, a nurse recruiter in Land O’ Lakes, paid $40 for a bottle of Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch bourbon with a protein and dairy kit. He said he almost spent $90 to have a bottle shipped from another state. Jennison posted a photo of the liquor and food in a Facebook group and thanked Whiskey Cake for the deal.
“It’s a restaurant that my wife and I like,” Jennison told the Tampa Bay Times. “I want to support a local business.”
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