What it lacked in drinks for our sorrows, metro Detroit’s bar industry made up for in resilience. Throughout the pandemic, watering holes across the region met seemingly insurmountable challenges with innovative solutions. When early regulations prevented them from selling alcohol for carryout or delivery, local bars reinvented their businesses, creating new products such as hand sanitizer and cocktail mixers. When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced their reopening on June 8, bars cheerfully welcomed clientele thirsty for craft cocktails and a semblance of social interaction. When she reversed that reopening just three weeks later, they swiftly complied with a new law that would allow for the sale of alcoholic beverages to go.
Few food businesses have had to shapeshift to this extent — closing, reopening, closing again, and absorbing costs for the packaging and labeling of new products developed seemingly overnight. Still, Ashley Davidson, co-founder of Kiesling in Detroit’s Milwaukee Junction neighborhood, sees a silver lining. “Yes, there have been a lot of twists and turns, but from where I sit, it’s actually presenting itself as a very unique opportunity for us to create a new business model,” she says.
Davidson and the Kiesling team navigated those twists and turns, launching T-shirts and hoodies and Curbside Drink Kits, pre-made cordials that came with password-protected digital recipes that customers could follow to recreate a craft cocktail experience at home.
In August, Kiesling introduced its To-Go Menu, including a range of seven from-scratch craft cocktails, served in 8- and 16-oz. bottles; a Beer-and-Shots special, including five Tecates and five tequila shots; and a Tasting To-Go, which reinvents a traditional tasting by packaging liquor flights with descriptions of each spirit. Bartenders are also on call to take you through the flavor profiles, should you have questions during your at-home tasting. “We’ve got all of these new parameters, but we also have these new opportunities with to-go,” Davidson says.
One opportunity she and her husband, Kiesling co-founder Carlo Liburdi, are excited to take advantage of is the proximity to Milwaukee Caffè, the neighboring walk-up coffee shop the duo launched in June. “The way that the liquor license is structured is that Milwaukee Caffè is a part of Kiesling, which means we can serve alcohol through that window — this was never planned, but sometimes luck comes.” This fall, the team plans to debut a collab cocktail, featuring iced coffee and booze.
“There are so many things that are hard right now in the world, and you can really be stuck in place by all of those hurdles,” Davidson says. “But I do think there are some silver linings, and we’re just trying to hang on to those.”