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‘It’s just nowhere.’ Charlotte restaurants, ABC stores scramble to fill liquor shortage
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‘It’s just nowhere.’ Charlotte restaurants, ABC stores scramble to fill liquor shortage

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Charlotte area restaurants and bars are reporting outages of popular booze brands like Patron tequila, Ciroc, Ketel One and Tito’s vodkas, and Malibu rum amid a global liquor shortage leaving business owners scrambling to stock their shelves.

At Picasso’s Sports Cafe in University City, Don Julio and other tequilas, and Jameson Irish Whiskey and Crown Royal whisky are out of stock.

“Some have been impossible to get,” said manager Ken Morgan.

He said it’s been hard to stock tequila for several months, but it’s grown worse in the last month. Fortunately, Morgan said, other types of liquor are available.

“We may not always have their first choice but we make sure to have a wide variety of choices,” he said.

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The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the supply chain issues in several industries from meats to materials like glass, and worker shortages, as more people get vaccinated and life gets back to normal.

During Wednesday’s regular meeting of the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, chairman Zander Guy Jr. started off by addressing the statewide liquor shortage.

“We all are experiencing the supply and demand shortage, and hopefully that will resolve itself in time,” he said.

Demand vs. supply

North Carolina has 171 ABC county boards across the state that are challenged under the current conditions, Guy said.

That includes the Mecklenburg County ABC Board, which manages the sale of distilled spirits at its 29 retail stores and also sells liquor to restaurants and bars. The commission contracts with a privately-owned warehouse contractor, LB&B Associates, which is responsible for the receipt, storage and distribution of spirituous liquor throughout the state.

Th ABC commission is in constant contact with suppliers to ensure products are in stock and help local ABC boards find solutions to product issues, said commission spokesman Jeff Strickland.

“Broadly speaking, there have been strains on the global supply chains of a variety of products throughout the entire pandemic, and not just here in North Carolina,” Strickland said. “Many businesses have reopened over recent months, creating additional demand as well.”

Bars in North Carolina were allowed to reopen on Feb. 26 after being order closed nearly a year ago, and late-night alcohol curfews also were lifted then.

All COVID-19 restrictions, including capacity limits at restaurants and other retailers, were lifted in May.

Pandemic at root of problems

Last year during pandemic shutdowns, ABC stores saw a nearly 30% jump in sales compared to 2019 as more people stocked up at home, the Observer previously reported. But as more restaurants and bars have reopened, demand is up for spirits.

But like other industries across the country such as meat, glass and aluminum, the liquor industry is experiencing tight supply and high demand resulting in shortages, Mecklenburg ABC Board CEO Keva Walton told the Observer.

The pandemic is blamed for negatively impacting the national and global supply chains.

“As we understand and learn more about the liquor shortages will update our customers,” Walton said.

The North Carolina ABC laws provide a uniform pricing structure to protect against price gouging and untimely price hikes, Walton said. He did not answer questions about which distilled spirits are hard to find or when the shortage might ease.

The top sellers in Mecklenburg County during the pandemic included Tito’s, Hennessy, Patron, Jack Daniel’s, Smirnoff and Crown Royal, as well as Woodford bourbon and Grey Goose vodka.

All stores will remain open for retail and permitted business customers, according to the county ABC board.

‘It’s just nowhere’

Some restaurateurs are having to search farther and make more trips to find liquors, like Fernando Gomez of Cabo’s Mexican Cuisine & Cantina in Carmel Commons in South Charlotte.

Gomez and wife Maria opened the Mexican restaurant 22 years ago and serve a variety of margaritas. But now, Gomez said he can’t always get the type of tequila a customer requests and makes runs to several ABC stores, going as far as Gastonia, to stock shelves.

And melon liqueur, used in several popular cocktails, has been unavailable for three months, Gomez said.

Typically, he said he stocks about 110 different liquors, but now he’s at about half that.

“I had to drive to six ABC stores, and it took me almost the whole day,” Gomez said, of trying to stock up for last week. “I never like to run out. It’s not me; it’s just nowhere.”

Gomez had already been to four stores by Wednesday to fill shelves. He said liquor and food sales are about equal and business is booming.

“But we’re being affected by everything — food shortage, worker shortage, liquor shortage,” he said. “It’s just unreal. We’re blessed, but it’s just so hard.”

He said his staff is only at 50% so the restaurant is running at 75% seating capacity. Like other businesses, he’s offering more employee incentives like vacation time, a $300 bonus and paying above minimum wage.

“It’s harder now than it was when we were doing just take out because we’re very busy but we don’t have the products,” Gomez said.

SC not feeling shortage yet

Across the state line, Liquor at the Lake in Lake Wylie, S.C., is fully stocked, assistant manager Josh Martin said.

“We don’t have a shortage at the moment,” Martin said.

He said the store off Highway 49 near the Buster Boyd Bridge is seeing an uptick in sales with more people headed to the lake and because of the shortage on some liquor brands in North Carolina. Some people come as far as Concord and Huntersville, he said, to find specific spirits, including bourbons.

He said the store is placing orders ahead to be sure to have brands like Casamigos tequila and mezcal, on back order. Martin said some liquor manufacturers are having issues with trucking, staffing and finding materials to make the bottles. It’s been an issue throughout the pandemic, Martin said.

Unlike North Carolina liquor sales, which is regulated by the state, South Carolina stores can cater to customer’s tastes. “We try to get a variety of various liquors throughout the country,” Martin said.

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