• Evan Shirreffs

Progressing through the Pandemic: Summit Seltzery by Evan Shirreffs

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

As if starting a business in the hospitality space isn’t already difficult enough between setting up the location, hiring staff, marketing, etc., imagine doing all of that with the added struggles of a worldwide pandemic. This is what Kristin Cagney has maneuvered over the past few months as she set out to open the first seltzery on the east coast of the United States. After leaving her corporate job to pursue this vision, she has spent the last few years studying selzteries and developing a business plan to start Summit Seltzery in Charlotte. With a business plan covering about everything but a pandemic, she has been forced to deal with many challenges outside of her control given the current state of the world. I sat down with her to get some insight into what it has been like opening a business and how she has dealt with the added stress of planning an opening during a pandemic.

Opening Delays: With plans to open during the summer, Summit Seltzery soon realized that this was not quite realistic given the circumstances. Construction and installation of everything was supposed to be finished on June 12th; it is now two months later and the seltzery is still not fully set up. The continuous delays have left many people asking when the doors will finally be open. With no other seltzeries in Charlotte, many are already coining Summit Seltzery as “The Seltzery” after it was featured in the Charlotte Agenda, DiscoverCLT, UNCC Belk School of Business webpage, and a few others earlier in the summer. A lot of buzz was created around the brand, which has been tough to maintain with the continued delay of opening.

The delay of opening has also raised concerns within the business. To open a business, you need employees. To hire employees, you need an opening date. With the continued delays, the seltzery could not give certain job candidates a definite start date. Jobs are hard to come by nowadays, so to lead candidates on and promise an opening that is not solidified in stone to get candidates to move to Charlotte would be ethically wrong. Instead of making these broken promises, the seltzery has had to accept losing some of these candidates.

Disruption of Distribution Channels: The main reason for the opening delays has been the pandemic-induced disruption of distribution channels for supplies ordered by the seltzery. Supplies arrived months late, but to make matters worse, a few lights and other décor were broken when they were eventually delivered. These broken objects are expected shipping issues, but they raise another question when they occur during a pandemic: do you place a re-order that will take additional months to come in or do you make due with the undamaged products you already have?

Another question raised surrounds the quantity of seating and tables that the seltzery should order. Clearly, there are current capacity limitations, so should you order seating for half-capacity or should you order for full-capacity knowing that capacity restrictions might be lifted by the time the seating finally does arrive? Extended lead times have proven to be the toughest challenges to maneuver as there is no perfect solution to mitigate their effects.

Hyper-communication: With ever-changing effects to construction, brewing of the seltzer, hiring, etc., a need for continuous communication has become evident. Communication about new regulations put into place and safety standards must be known by all employees. Scheduled installations must be communicated when delayed deliveries finally come in. Patience has certainly become a necessary trait for everyone involved in creating Summit Seltzery.

Safety Guidelines: With limited contact allowed between parties and table-only service, Summit Seltzery has had to make some changes to its planned layout. Originally, Kristin envisioned a place where everyone could mingle and socialize with games like foosball and shuffleboard. With clear sanitary issues surrounding this type of atmosphere, the seltzery has been forced to settle within the scope of regulatory guidelines. All Summit Seltzery can do is wait for news of any lifted regulations before fully implementing the original business plan.

Although the distribution channel struggles and the development of a brand without technically being open have presented a difficult task to finesse, there is a silver lining for Summit Seltzery as the toughest work appears to be in the rearview. With phase 2 of COVID-19 regulations set to end towards the beginning of September, the seltzery will be able to open its doors soon after and truly show off the vision that Kristin Cagney has built out over the last few years. With a huge brewery presence and popularity of hard seltzers still skyrocketing with no sign of slowing down, it’s safe to say Summit Seltzery will be a hit and well worth the persistence of Kristin and her team.

Update: I attended the soft opening of the seltzery on September 11 to see if all of the hype is warranted; it certainly is. The seltzers are delicious. They also offer beers, wines, and a few mixed drinks with incredible service. The official opening will be on September 18, with reservation-only slots for Friday and Saturday of the first two weekends it is open. I would highly recommend checking it out and getting a taste of the first seltzery on the east coast. Cheers!

Evan Shirreffs, MBA is a Business Analyst with WIMS Consulting a full-service marketing and sales agency operating primarily in Charlotte, NC and Miami, FL. WIMS has a service line dedicated to assisting restaurants, breweries, and bars with growing and scaling called LDR BRD.