To help alleviate the impacts of COVID-19, Top of The Hill Restaurant & Brewery is now producing hand sanitizer after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave distilleries the approval to do so.
They’ve produced over 100 gallons of hand sanitizer following the World Health Organization official recipe, donating around half to COVID-19 first responders and selling the rest in 18 oz. bottles to community members.
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“We literally, at one point in the beginning, took vodka and turned it into hand sanitizer,” said Scott Maitland, founder of TOPO Distillery.
He said TOPO became aware of the possibility of making hand sanitizer early on in the pandemic, but they had to wait for a government go-ahead.
“The problem was that it was illegal," he said. "There were a couple of distilleries that started doing it, but they got in some serious trouble. We knew we could do it, and on the day the FDA said ‘Well, It's not legal, but we won't prosecute,’ we started doing it.”
The WHO sanitizer recipe allows for the use of food-grade ethanol that breweries provide with ease, but the FDA-approved recipe requires “denatured” alcohol — alcohol that contains bitter-tasting and sometimes toxic chemicals that would prevent children from drinking the sanitizer. While the FDA does not legally sanction WHO’s recipe, it has said it will refrain from prosecuting breweries and others who produce hand sanitizer to address the COVID-19 crisis.
Maitland said some manufacturers in the community had donated some of the necessary ingredients after hearing about TOPO’s sanitizer donations to first responders.
Todd McGee, the community relations director for Orange County, said breweries like TOPO became critical in producing hand sanitizer once the commercial supply was quickly exhausted.
“It’s a definite need," he said. "You can’t find it anywhere, in any kind of retail store. Even the supplies to make your own hand sanitizer, like rubbing alcohol and aloe gel are in scarce supply.”
TOPO ferments their own alcohol, so they are able to provide ingredients that are in scarce supply for people who might make their own sanitizer at home.
McGee said Orange County Emergency Operations is working to ensure nursing homes and hospitals have an adequate supply of hand sanitizer. He said TOPO donated 10 gallons of homemade hand sanitizer, and Duke Energy has pledged to donate five gallons. McGee said Orange County will use that hand sanitizer to meet internal needs and distribute to partners in need.
Maitland said it was encouraging to see a wave of support and the love for TOPO in the community, and that around 1,000 people had already joined the Founders program. He said TOPO will slow down producing hand sanitizer by mid-May but still have it available to buy.
Katie Loovis, vice president for external affairs at The Chamber For a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro, said local businesses are innovating by putting what they have to sell online, changing the products they’re manufacturing and working together to change the way their products are distributed. She also stressed the importance of buying local.
“Some of these innovations are helping businesses stay afloat and even do as good or better as they did before the pandemic,” Loovis said.
Despite their willingness to step up, Maitland said TOPO is still struggling. The company has had to lay off nearly all of its restaurant employees. Maitland said the restaurant is running a curbside meal pick-up program. He said he hopes launching their Founders Club 2.0 program will help keep them afloat.
“This is going to help us survive,” he said.
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