Couple creates hope from pandemic hardship at their Beltline shop

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Missy and Kristin Koefed are used to overcoming challenges, but like everyone, nothing prepared the couple for the wrench thrown into their business model by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We shut down our shop in mid March, and were closed until the very end of June,” they told Project Q. “It has definitely slowed down business quite a bit, but we have been able to retain 100% of our staff.”

The pair owns 18.21 Bitters, the cocktail mixes and tinctures shop that opened in 2015 in Ponce City Market. They also founded the speakeasy-style The James Room restaurant on the Atlanta Beltline that opened in 2019, but recently sold it.

Even amid the hardships, there have been blessings, assistance and hope, the Q magazine cover models said.

“We are working to pivot the business model, but also we’re happy that our staff, while we were closed, were able to get unemployment benefits, which gave us some peace of mind,” the Koefeds said. “We have a wonderful team and partners that continue to work hard to keep things moving forward, and are working with Ponce on some assistance.”

They are also part of a funding cohort on EnrichHER, an online platform for grants, loans and investment opportunities specifically targeted at female and Black-owned businesses that are already established.

“We are conducting out first equity raise, and are happy to share information on that with folks one on one, who can e-mail us for more information,” they said. “We are really excited about what the future holds for the company and are using the pandemic as a catalyst for change that will really catapult the brand towards a larger national presence.”

Still, the changes have not been slight, and the Ponce City Market Shop has undergone rigrous rules changes for everyone’s safety.

“While we are open now, we don’t feel that it is safe to do tastings, so those are on hold and we currently only allow one customer at a time in the shop,” the Koefeds said.

They also limit staff to only one person on the floor at a time, and both guests and employees must be masked.

“We have visual distancing guides laid out on the floor, and we are now operating on a cashless basis with virtual receipts. Our staff is diligent about cleaning the shop, and we have reduced hours so that the store can be thoroughly sanitized daily,” the Koefeds said.

It’s a lot, but patrons and employees have both rolled with the punches pretty well.

“The staff has been wonderful as usual and so have our guests,” they said. “We have always been blessed with really amazing customers and that hasn’t changed.”

The support extends from a loyal base of queer Atlantans.

“The LGBTQIA+ community in Atlanta has always shown us so much support, and we feel really lucky to have ended up in such a wonderful city surrounded by such a wonderful community,” the Koefeds said. “We want to say thank you so much.”

Anything else? Just one thing.

“Oh…and vote,” they added.

Visit 18.21 Bitters on the lower level of Ponce City Market, 1821bitters.com

Photo by Russ Bowen-Youngblood.

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