Coronavirus Closures Forced Breweries To Get Creative. So Boulder Got An Adult Ice Cream Truck

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2min 27sec
Courtesy Sanitas Brewing Company
Screencap from a promotion video Sanita Brewing Company made to get the word out about their ice cream beer truck during stay-at-home orders.

For people cooped up at home under the coronavirus stay-at-home order, the jingle they hear coming down the street is probably the happiest thing they’ve heard all week. Only, it’s not the kids who are excited. It’s the adults.

Boulder brewer Michael Memsic co-founded Sanitas Brewing Company in 2013 and has seen regular ups and downs. But nothing quite prepared him for the 70 percent hit in business he estimates he saw in March. Like many restaurants and breweries, he needed to keep his business going somehow.

The nostalgic appeal of an old school neighborhood ice cream truck became the answer.

“This may have been a distraction from other things, but it was a fun distraction for us,” Memsic mused. “We searched the Internet and found some of the most authentic ice cream truck speaker megaphone things we could find.”

They slapped the sound system onto their white delivery van. Memsic was also lucky that he already had a charismatic delivery truck driver in Ryan Carroll, who seemed to relish his new role. In a promotional video, Carroll is seen handing out six-packs using extra-long tongs. Or giving a hearty “what up, dude?” to somebody walking down the street as he drives between deliveries.

“That’s goofy. It’s fun,” said Memsic. “Watching adults between 25 and 60 years old chase down an ice cream truck is something that feels good to participate in.”

The new temporary reality of delivery beer was made possible by an executive order on essential businesses from Gov. Jared Polis that followed the stay-at-home order. Curbside pickup, takeout and delivery are the new lifeblood of the state’s entrepreneurial dining, nightlife, brewery and distillery scene.

Employees who work in food services and accommodations have taken the hardest hit as COVID-19 crumples the economy. About a fifth of the state’s soaring unemployment claims come from those workers.

Memsic’s business struck a more serious tone on April 14 when he and his business partners got an email from the Colorado Liquor Enforcement Division. While beer delivery is currently allowed to homes, they think he may be breaking the rules.

In addition to online orders, Sanitas Brewing Company has made “in the moment” sales to people over 21. In Memsic’s mind, in-the-moment purchases were no different from online orders: Each customer still makes their beer purchase through Sanitas’ website. It just happened to be minutes — not days — before they were handed their six-packs. 

“The in-the-moment sales drives it up significantly,” he said. “On a busy ice-cream truck day, our delivery truck driver can sell through 15-20 cases where we’ll see a delivery scheduled for 4-5 cases total for the weekend.” 

A spokesperson for the LED declined to comment citing an ongoing investigation. 

As Memsic works through the details with the state officer, he said getting rid of the in-the-moment sales would cause a “significant” hit to his business. While this past week has been the most stressful in recent memory, he’s tried to not lose sight of why he started this whole gimmick in the first place: People need fun in their lives right now.

“The nurses, the doctors, the people on the frontlines are doing much more valuable things than we are today,” Memsic said. “But if we can have a little bit of fun with people for an afternoon, and it gives them something to laugh about, I feel pretty good about what I’ve done.”