Launching two weeks before lockdown in March 2020 was not the best time for any business, but for Happy Raptor Distilling, this particular cloud didn’t come without a silver lining.
“Even during the closing time, people were still buying alcohol,” said Mark Taliancic, CEO and chief distiller, somewhat understated.
Few people know that in order to open a distillery in Louisiana, it is necessary to enter into a distribution agreement before the state approves a business license. While this creates the classic chicken and egg puzzle of trying to find a distributor before having a product to distribute, Happy Raptor was able to partner with James Moises of Bizou Distributors.
This paved the way for a February 2020 opening in Central City, just in time for the first Mardi Gras parades of the year. Happy Raptor took off, but was shut down after two weeks.
“Fortunately, we have a dual license, which means we can sell indoors and out,” explained Taliancic. “So we were still able to sell bottles and batches of ready-made cocktails. I went to Walmart and started buying glass jars and we started promoting pickup. That and some hand sanitizer is what got us through the deep part of the shutdown.”
At first, Taliancic and his wife Migen Moreland-Taliancic were the only two employees and he still worked full-time. Now having weathered the pandemic and back stronger than ever, Happy Raptor has ten full-time and part-time employees and operates in more than 45 locations.
Happy Raptor produces a unique rum. The Tagliancicci got married on the island of Martinique and during the celebration got to know the local tradition of infusing their rum with local citrus fruits, spices and plants. Taking this approach to New Orleans, their 504Rum line includes flavors such as hibiscus, banana foster, and king pie. Each one is handcrafted with 100% locally sourced natural ingredients.
Happy Raptor takes an equally unique approach to marketing. “Non-profit organizations can use our space for free to host fundraising events,” Taliancic said. “We host an average of two to four events per month. Thanks to this, more people get to know about us, and it helps organizations.”
Customer experience and customer loyalty are also key areas of the company’s business. Happy Raptor maintains a constant stream of events taking place in the tasting room, from art markets to quiz nights. Tours of the distilleries are offered by appointment, and chances are good that visitors will discover that their guide is also a local comedian. Almost every night there are food trucks in the tasting room.
The Raptor Rewards loyalty program awards points for every purchase of $25 or more, and five points gives the customer a free bottle of rum or a batch of four pre-mixed cocktails.
Of course, the first question most people ask is “about that name?” Taliancic’s eldest child was known to squeal like a popular movie velociraptor when excited; no wonder some of the quizzes are Jurassic Park-themed.
The best way to contact Happy Raptor is through their website www.happyraptor.com. In addition to information on hours, products, and events, the site includes an extensive list of drink recipes, many of which were created by the staff.
“I’m not a mixologist, I make rum,” Taljancic remarked. “All our employees know that if they want to come up with a new drink, we will test it, and if we like it, it will be on the menu. We are happy to share the recipes because if people want to make drinks, they have to use our rum.”
This is another example of good marketing on a tight budget, and Taljancic credits his partner for it all. Her experience includes working with both non-profit and commercial organizations, and even briefly worked in public relations at the local French consulate.
Happy Raptor is part of a thriving distillery in the New Orleans area, which Taliancic sees as a plus. “We were about a decade behind the brewing boom. We all do very different things, and people who go to distilleries usually want to visit several. There is more cooperation than competition here. Everyone has room to grow.”
In terms of growth, Happy Raptor has just launched a line of syrups similar to the mixtures used to infuse rum to give a special flavor to people who don’t drink alcohol. They are perfect for spice up lemonade or fruit juices.
“Our product is truly unique,” said Taljancic. “It’s infused, but not overly sweet. You must try.”