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The insanity of keeping frosé flowing in a pandemic

Let’s get this out of the way now: Frosé is chilled rosé wine usually mixed with sugar, sometimes fruit. Jess Patterson sells a ton of it at The Co-Op

Let’s get this out of the way now: Frosé is chilled rosé wine usually mixed with sugar, sometimes fruit.

Jess Patterson sells a ton of it at The Co-Op, the Sullivan’s Island market he has run since 2012. Even before the pandemic, people lined up at 2019 Middle St. for various flavors of the cold, trendy, boozy drink.

But with beach checkpoints, stay-home mandates and online ordering now commonplace, The Co-Op’s Instagram feed became an even-more neurotic, chaotic and hilarious stream of consciousness documenting the quirky small business’ adaptation in a time of crisis.

This week, we asked Patterson to reflect on a few of his quarantine posts from a time that he says will likely shift the way The Co-Op does business for a while.

Long a place where locals can grab beer and wine, The Co-Op is a pretty typical island market — except for the 12 frozen drink machines along one wall. Patterson admits he initially opened the shop as a hobby while living on the island and working in finance — the CofC grad was “the 33rd employee, maybe?” at Automated Trading Desk, bought by Citigroup in 2007 for $680 million. But, jobless after moving to New York for a start-up that flamed out, Patterson and his now-wife Liza got the idea in 2016 to import frosé back to the shop as it was growing in popularity. They installed two machines the next summer and retooled the menu to incorporate beach-friendly deli sandwiches.

Not eager to relinquish his claim to the throne as Frosé King (his actual job title on LinkedIn), Patterson is cagey with sales figures. Put it this way: Weekend sales of the cold stuff outpace combined sales of sandwiches, he says, with up to 1,000 frosé orders on their busiest day.

The small shop has a 16,000-person following on Instagram, where Patterson roasts himself, takes playful jabs at customers, razzes residents of the state’s wealthiest ZIP code and presents a lightly fictionalized version of a day in the life of the Frosé King. But even when they’re the butt of the jokes, the locals take it in stride.

“I think they all have a really good sense of humor about it,” Patterson says. “Some of them are pricks and I’ll call them out on it … I’m not going to put up with bullshit over a $10 sandwich.”

The following posts from @coopsullivans are presented in chronological order starting just before the pandemic.

Mar 19

“I have a masters in social distancing. From ages 13-19 I witnessed this firsthand. Her name was Ashley … Anyway, we are still serving our full menu. No one is allowed in the shop.”

This was when we realized the coronavirus had the majority of Charleston thinking maybe a drink at noon wasn’t a bad idea. On a Tuesday. I mean the world was ending, so might as well drink. The frosé machines couldn’t keep up, we had 10 of them, and people were double fisting frosé by 2 p.m. It was like a Tri Delt reunion outside the shop. Have you ever heard a conversation between two people after they have each had a few frosés? This stuff writes itself. It was time to order more frosé machines. Or change our phone number to a support group hotline. We thought about that for April Fool’s.

Mar 25

“The time has come. Your hero has arrived. Call 1.843.200.9505 for delivery. Any attitude whatsoever and I will hang up on you.”

The island had just been closed off to nonresidents. So I was freaking out. How were we supposed to make money when you couldn’t get on the island? I have a Peloton monthly subscription I have to pay for each month. Plus, my wife’s obsession with trying to buy all of Target each Sunday. Seriously though, no way we are able to make payroll and rent without the rest of Charleston having access to us. So screw it, call me Papa John, it’s time to try delivery. We asked some food and bev friends who were out of work to help out with delivery. Delivery begins.

April 2

“Thanks to Lori, The Co Op has banned The Crescent neighborhood for delivery. Lori had to wait too long and Lori got angry at me.”

It’s been non-stop chaos at this point. The world is ending and I’m getting complaints about orders being delayed or incorrect. I’ve been away from my wife and daughter Genevieve for over a week and am barely keeping it together. And then I get The Phone Call. The customer’s biggest problem of the week was not getting her delivery on time. I refunded the order, but she just kept going on and on. She let me know we should stop delivery until we had a better system so customers have a better experience. It took everything I had to not post her address. I still might. And that’s when my day drinking at The Co Op began

April 5

“Stay safe. Stay oiled. Stay deep.”

I could tell you I look at my Instagram feed to see what other restaurants are doing during these times. That sounds great and professional. But Instagram makes this hard. Instead my feed is filled with bikini models, squat influencers or fishermen. I’m obsessed with reading the comments on these bikini posts. They are creepy at the highest level and I just love reading them. But I thought about how hard it must be for the bikini influencer to post something deep about the pandemic. Easily some of the best writing I’ve seen on Instagram. “Stay oiled” is my “thank you” to all the influencers doing their thing. We have the front liners, but we also have influencers putting on tanning oil. Everyone is doing their part during COVID-19.

April 7

“So yes it may be an inconvenience to drive out to SI, but you can do it. Heck, if it’s a long drive call me and we can talk.”

I’d been away from my wife and Genevieve for over two weeks. I was going downhill and had no one to play with. My nightly routine was a few bottles of wine (after a six-pack) and Netflix binging. I watched Netflix on my phone the entire night, I left my laptop charger at the shop. It’s four blocks away. My eyes and neck were a disaster the next morning. Anyway, we figured out you could get onto the island with a receipt, so online ordering completely exploded and we dumped delivery.

April 9

“I woke up to 39 texts.”

Online ordering became a monster. Nonstop. Any time we paused it to catch up, or were closed, a customer let me know. As early as 6 a.m. I had to give my cell phone out to customers for delivery and it has turned into a frosé help line. I’ll get calls at 2 a.m. from people suggesting new flavors to me. Or sending me photos of empty frosé bottles filling up their entire trash can. I just got one of a cat drinking frosé. (Also, shout-out to Hobcaw Creek Plantation from this post. Best drinkers in Charleston. Love those people.)

April 10

“We will be offering delivery tomorrow so we can do a better job of social distancing. I cannot have a line like this in front of my shop.”

Ugh. I guess we have to address this. I blame myself here, but also Prickly Pear, a new frosé flavor people went nuts over. We got overwhelmed and couldn’t keep up and our safety procedures broke down. The police helped out quickly, but the damage was done. Photos started posting to the ‘Gram. The worst part is that safety is my top concern. My wife is high-risk, so I’m living in a separate house 10 hours away to keep her safe and run a business and I’m getting judged for safety issues. I let it get out of control and should have done better. Glad we addressed this in the City Paper. Jerks.

May 1

“Just got back from the beach, it’s just so nice having it all to myself. So odd no one else is enjoying it. Just fucking with you. I’m in sweats nursing a hangover. … [The Co Op is] finalizing a spot downtown for a second shop!”

I got the biggest kick out of the fact that some people could use public beaches during the pandemic and some people couldn’t. It was absolutely amazing to me, just completely unfair. But super funny. So I posted many times that I was on the beach, enjoying it all to myself. People were using receipts to just get on the island, so I wrote that I included a screenshot of one, but it was actually that porn guy who kept reappearing. My mom commented on it!

Anyway, commercial rents downtown are going to plummet, so I’m going to take over an empty space downtown for my second shop. I’ve had several calls about spaces and have narrowed it down to a few. So none of that makes sense unless you read the post and then read this. Sorry.

May 9

“DOOT DEET DOOT DA DOOT DOOT DOOT DOOT DOOT. … Online has broken me.”

Online ordering has completely changed our business. It’s been just amazing. But the sound it makes to notify us of an order is by far the most annoying sound I have ever heard. I’m sitting in the shop constantly hearing this sound and can’t take it any longer, so I walk outside and notice these flamingos in our flower bed. I take a look, notice it’s hollow inside, and take it in the kitchen and open her up. The staff had names like Frozzy, Frozzie, Rosé, Frozen Flamingo, etc. but I thought Chad had a nice ring to it. So, meet Chad.

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