“Make Mine a Hand Sanitizer — Neat”
How Steve Riordan ’81 is boosting production from a Florida distillery
What do hand sanitizer and your favorite cocktail have in common? Ethanol — a.k.a. alcohol. Since early March, countless distilleries and spirit manufacturers across the country have swapped legacy recipes and aging barrels for an FDA-approved compound and plastic bottles, and Bentley alumni in the industry are no exception.
After growing up in Vermont, excelling at school and spending 28 years in finance at various subsidiaries of Ingersoll Rand, an industrial equipment and technologies company, Steve Riordan ’81 retired early to Florida. There, he and his business partner, Jesse Javens, met the Kozuba family — immigrants from Poland looking to make their family’s vodka a household name in the States. With an appreciation for clear spirits and a knack for increasing profits, Riordan and Javens joined Kozuba & Sons Distillery in St. Petersburg as equity partners just over a year ago.
The company was on the precipice of a rebrand launch when COVID-19 struck.
Kozuba had the will to help, but, like most Americans, didn’t have the way. The company had alcohol in abundance — and they’d need 80% in every bottle per FDA regulations, unlike commercial hand sanitizers which often provide a 55-70% base, or sometimes none at all. Hydrogen peroxide and glycerol they could get. Water they could purify. But plastic bottles were backed up in the overwhelmed supply chain.
“People say they have a hard time getting hand sanitizer,” Riordan says, “but it’s not the sanitizer itself that is scarce. It’s the containers.” Kozuba was finally able to get their hands on six-, eight- and 32-ounce bottles, but the company is constantly on the lookout for additional sizes.
Since switching production gears in early March, they’ve donated thousands of bottles to local first responders and nonprofit organizations, and have sold thousands more to essential businesses in the Tampa Bay area and beyond.
Giving back in the midst of the pandemic actually brings the Riordan-Javens-Kozuba story full circle: they all first met at a charity golf tournament for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF) that Riordan and Javens started nine years ago. “The foundation supplies full college scholarships to Gold Star children who were the ones left behind when their special operator parent was killed in action,” Riordan says. The tournament is now the largest fundraiser of its type in the country for SOWF. If you’re in St. Pete, you can pick up a “Camo Box” of vodka — curbside, of course. A portion of each sale is donated to the foundation.
And when the social distancing subsides? Riordan suggests coming in for a glass of cranberry juniper vodka. “The flavor is infused and it tastes fantastic — just on the rocks.”