Local Distillery Finds Niche in Making Hand Sanitizer

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When Bill Candella emptied vodka from a still at his Boardman micro-distillery more than a month ago to produce hand sanitizer – a product in short supply because of the coronavirus pandemic – he never imagined it would open a new business division. 

Typically, Candella Micro-Distillery produces vodka, wine and other spirts from its site at 4440 Market St., where it has operated since 2013. Since beginning production of hand sanitizer, the company has sold more than 10,000 gallons locally and throughout the country.

At a time when businesses are facing economic uncertainty, Candella and his two partners, two partners, Dan Solmen and Marty Yavorcik, both attorneys, say what started as a way to help out has turned into an opportunity. 

The company has hired 10 people, purchased additional equipment to increase capacity, bought out a bottling company and is looking to move the wine and spirits part of its business to a new site in Boardman. Candella will keep the Market Street space as the company’s headquarters and manufacturing site for hand sanitizer. 

“I’ve found a nice niche and I’m sticking in my lane,” Candella says. 

Candella learned about the federal government seeking distilleries to produce hand sanitizer through a trade association.

“I thought, ‘Why not?’ and filled out the application. At the end of March, the FDA contacted me and gave the OK to start producing,” he says. 

He received a formula to make the hand sanitizer from the World Health Organization and began producing the product that has eluded store shelves and supply chains from the pandemic’s onset in Ohio. Priority for distribution is given free to hospital/health care workers and first responders. Letters of thanks flood the company’s Facebook page from police and fire chiefs to hospital executives for supplying the hand sanitizer. 

Bill Candella purchased new equipment and acquired a bottling company to keep up with demand for hand sanitizer.

Nearly 20 letters of thanks from police departments and hospitals hang in the store. During a day at the distillery, Candella pauses to chat with a police officer from Steubenville who drove to the store to pick up an order. 

“Hey, buddy, good to see you. You got everything?” he asks. “Ok, be safe out there.”

The company is filling orders for Mercy Health as well as Akron Children’s Hospital and nursing homes. The sanitizer also is sold to the public at the Boardman distillery. For information, call 330 518 5006.

Prices for the hot commodity are $2 for a four-ounce bottle, $10 for a 16-ounce bottle, $15 for a 24-ounce bottle and $50 for a gallon.

“I didn’t want to price gouge,” he says, “even though everyone selling products to produce this is gouging me.”

The best way for companies to use the product is to put it into a mist bottle and spray it so it doesn’t leave a residue, he says. 

Finding the hand sanitizer for sale in Youngstown helped Rachel Miskell of Austintown. While she lives in the Mahoning Valley, she works in Canton in the hospitality sector. 

“I was so glad that they started making this here. Even though I had stocked up at the beginning, but finding supplies now, even through hotel suppliers is nearly impossible,” she says. 

She learned about the distillery through Facebook. She has bought it here and taken it to the hotel in Canton. Cleaning and disinfecting has increased immensely since the pandemic started in Ohio. 

While the hotel industry has taken a large hit since the pandemic began, Miskell says the hotel where she works hasn’t seen the downturn like many other hotels have. She’s seen many long-haul truck drivers staying overnight and some rooms are rented by those with essential jobs.

Candella sells hand sanitizer at $2 for a four-ounce bottle, $10 for a 16-ounce bottle, $15 for a 24-ounce bottle and $50 for a gallon.

Candella says the company had a hard time keeping up with demand when it first started making the hand sanitizer. Challenges included running out of bottles for the product, as well as one of its main ingredients: hydrogen peroxide. 

“Distributors for hydrogen peroxide and other materials were gouging everyone. Everything was overpriced. Bottles that normally sold for 25 cents apiece were selling for $3 and $4,” he says. “I couldn’t find bottles, so I ended up buying a guy out of his bottling business.”

Candella uses two machines to make eight bottles at a time because he needed the speed to keep up with demand. He says he is looking to buy two more pieces of machinery to produce the hand sanitizer. He spends a lot of time on his computer, bidding supplies of glycerin and hydrogen peroxide. 

“When you’re buying barrels of hydrogen peroxide, they want to know what you’re using it for,” he says with a laugh.

Candella’s partner, Marty Yavorcik, says the paperwork is massive because of government regulations. 

“I have to file daily, quarterly and yearly reports on how much we sell,” Yavorcik says.

Pictured at top: From left, Marty Yavorcik, Madi Parrish, Dan Solmen, Kris Kunig and Bill Candella.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.