Nearly 21,000 Savannah residents work in food and beverage — that’s 14% of the Hostess City curating meals, slinging cocktails, waiting tables, chopping vegetables, searing tuna, washing dishes.
With industry-wide shut downs earlier this year, COVID-19 devastated, and still hits hard, the city’s restaurants and bars. But here’s a bright spot — Savannah’s very own Ghost Coast Distillery along with Athen’s Creature Comforts Brewing Company are teaming up with The Giving Kitchen for a night of music and adult beverages at Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum.
All together, on Saturday, they’re "Raising Spirits" for Savannah’s service industry.
When COVID-19 shut down Savannah on March 21, Ghost Coast Distillery kept right on going. On a dime the company pivoted, expanded their craft spirits facility, and in ten days, created, bottled, and branded Daisy Maze Hand Sanitizer.
"Being small made us easily adaptable, "said Chris Sywassink, Ghost Coast’s General Manager and co-founder. "We got creative and that paid the bills, kept our team employed, and kept them with their healthcare."
They sent bottles of sanitizer to local hospitals and prisons. The Georgia Department of Transportation even purchased a dump truck load of four pallets of sanitizer.
"From April until now, we’ve bottled and sold over 7,000 gallons," affirms Sywassink. "That’s a tanker truck and a half of hand sanitizer!"
But not all businesses could do a 180-turn like Ghost Coast, especially not the city’s many bars and restaurants, and that’s the prime mover in the company’s involvement with the "Raising Spirits" benefit. Ghost Coast Distillery is sponsoring the bands Little Stranger and Of Good Nature to co-headline the night.
And though the event is free to the public, there’s a suggested $5 donation at the door, all of which Creature Comforts Brewing Company will match and donate to Giving Kitchen.
"This is who we are," said Sywassink. "I feel it in my soul, and we all want to give back to the service industry that supports us and is the backbone of Savannah."
And that’s where The Giving Kitchen comes in. The Atlanta-based non-profit is no stranger to the needs of food and beverage folks in Savannah. Just after Christmas 2018, a live tree caught fire in the ballroom of The Olde Pink House, shutting down the restaurant for more than three months.
The organization stepped in and helped 127 of the 238 staff affected by the closure.
The Giving Kitchen provides financial assistance to Georgia food service workers in need. And they do it like this: corporate and small businesses kick in as sponsors, and communities and local businesses across the state hold fundraising events. All the funds go into one big money pool, and from that, service workers apply for and can be awarded grants to cover living expenses incurred from illness, injury, death, or disaster.
"If you’re a food service worker in Georgia, Giving Kitchen has your back thanks to events like ’Raising Spirits,’" said Naomi Green, Development and Partnerships Director at Giving Kitchen.
To date, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Giving Kitchen has helped 354 food and beverage workers across the state, and since March 18, five grants have been awarded directly to Savannah workers.
For Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, 2020 was slated to be organization’s big foray into regular music features.
"We were really excited about this year and had seven music events planned with local and regional acts," said Stephanie Sekula, Community Relations and Events Manager for the museum. "But then COVID hit, and all that had to be canceled or postponed."
Since March, Ships of the Sea has hosted a few small weddings and a live-stream for the Savannah Jazz Festival. The "Raising Spirits" fundraiser marks their first almost-back-to-the-way-things-used-to-feel event.
"We’re excited to donate our space and be part of this community event," emphasized Sekula, "but we’ve got to be safe about it."
For "Raising Spirits" masks are required to enter, and though the capacity of the open-air space is 600, the cap is set at 150 for the fundraiser. A staff person will be at the entrance keeping count to make sure the limit is maintained. Multiple hand sanitizing stations will be inside the venue, and masks are required when ordering from the bar.
"The event starts at 5 p.m. and goes to 9 p.m.," said Sekula. "Our thought is that people will circulate in and out, it will flow, and the limited capacity really won’t dampen the night."
A fun-loving mash-up of indie hip-hop, Gorillaz, Beck, and singer-songwriter turns of phrase is Little Stranger, a music duo out of Charleston, S.C., bringing danceable grooves to "Raising Spirits."
John Shields and Kevin Shields (not related) are no strangers to Savannah. On their pre-COVID tours they played Barrel House South, Congress Street Social Club, and Victory North. They’re stoked to be in the mix.
"We love Savannah and the scene and thinks it’s beyond awesome to have this opportunity," said Kevin Shields, lead vocalist for the duo.
"We have a chance to help give back to the very thing that makes it possible for us to make a living, and that’s an honor. We’re humbled."