Pedaling Hops for NYC’s Craft Breweries
Revolutionist Daniel Wendlek is a keen observer of the way people and goods move about the city. He’s also a man with a lot of friends. One of those friends, Ethan Long, owns Rockaway Brewing Company in Long Island City, Queens. RBCo was the first Queens craft microbrewery to emerge here in NYC over the last decade. Up until recently, RBCo was distributing its beer through traditional channels selling to bars, restaurants, and bodegas, while also operating two taprooms: one in their brewery and another in their namesake neighborhood, the Rockaways. Then, the COVID-19 restrictions kicked in. As with so many other businesses, RBCo experienced a dramatic dropoff in business. With bars and restaurants shuttered, that revenue stream withered; meanwhile, RBCo taprooms were required to go take-out only.
Cue Delivery Daniel. A concerned patron, Daniel sprung into action. Developing a delivery program from scratch, Daniel initially delivered beer on his own bike in the nearby area; a few weeks later, the program now covers most of the Queens shoreline as well as several neighborhoods in Brooklyn—plus weekly runs to Manhattan. Thanks to Daniel, RBCo enthusiasts are able to get their fix of cans, bottles, and crowlers filled with its sublime suds. The program possesses protocols for easy, contactless delivery: A quick call or text lets the customer know when his or her brew has arrived; then, he or she comes down, picks up the beer, and salutes (ideally) his or her deliverist from a short distance.
What emerged out of necessity in a time of hardship has also revealed the potential reach of in-house delivery service. While large distributors encourage breweries to offload the logistics and cast a wide net, they have their drawbacks; for instance, margins for smaller breweries can prove hard to sustain under such arrangements. That’s why today’s taprooms are so crucial. These new delivery programs may turn out to offer craft brewers a similar direct-to-customer advantage. Daniel sees the potential for some of the local beer producers to team up to forge a “craft distribution network”. In such an alliance, a viable alternative logistics channel is possible that could feature some of the perks of a larger organization—access to a network with regional recognition and infrastructure for operating that each entity could pay into; such arrangements often are considered producer cooperatives in certain circles. Risk and financial hurdles under such arrangements are spread out amongst producers. Unlike with wholesale distributors, such a network or cooperative would likely allow producers to sell products at retail rates. Membership in the network or cooperative would be something the producers could proudly proclaim, as the craft ethos would extend into the delivery process itself.
Though Daniel started with his own bike and panniers, he and his team today are considering deployment of electric cargo bikes, trikes, and Carla Cargo trailers as volume expands. Such modes can haul bigger, heavier loads, and require fewer return trips to reload. The RBCo program offers a bevy of brews in a variety of packages, as well as an opportunity to tip the courier at the point of sale. Tipping is an essential part of the program, reducing the cost to the producer and compensating these frontline workers taking on the risk of COVID-19 exposure. Orders for Rockaway Brewing company can be placed at https://rockawaybrewco.com