Even though the pandemic has made things hard for many local businesses, Rebecca Atkinson is working hard to keep supplying food and beer to her Eastern Shore community.
She founded Sober Island Brewing Company four years ago, best known for its signature stout made from Nova Scotian oysters. She had the idea while sipping on an oyster stout in Cardiff, Wales.
“I just thought it was a truly Nova Scotian thing that we should be making here,” Atkinson says. “I’ve always had a love for food and beverage, so bringing the two together and being able to share our place and products with people was a really exciting thing for me.”
Sober Island Brewing is in Sheet Harbour, about a 90-minute drive from downtown on the Eastern Shore, on the very edge of HRM. Atkinson moved to the area when she was four years old.
“There’s a connection here that I haven’t found anywhere else,” she says. “I really connect with my community and it’s so full of opportunity.”
It’s been a rough time. A week before the pandemic started, her brother died after an illness. Then the pandemic hit, forcing most restaurants to close and eliminating a lot of Sober Island’s business. Atkinson picked herself up and carried on.
To support front-line workers, Sober Island Brewing started selling T-shirts that say, “Stay At Home” and have a variation of the company’s logo. It started with a goal of raising $2,000 but has since raised over $6,700, donating the profits to the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, which is working on a COVID-19 vaccine.
In Sheet Harbour, Sober Island Brewing started a food and beer pickup and delivery service, something new in the community. It partnered with two local businesses: Fairwinds Motel & Restaurant and the Henley House Pub and Restaurant. The businesses offer the service on every second Friday.
Atkinson says she’s lucky her company is able to operate, even if it’s just a pickup and delivery service run by two people. Rural Nova Scotia’s small market size makes her nervous but the supportive community has helped Sober Island succeed. When she heard of Halifax Magazine’s Shine On contest (offering $3,000 in free advertising for local businesses), she went on Facebook to rally support.
“The response back was overwhelming,” she says. “People are just real champions of the business here and I’ve been embraced by so many people because I really involve myself in the community.”
Sober Island Brewing received several nominations for the Shine On contest. “Rebecca’s energy, ideas, and drive certainly inspire me as well as many others in our community,” Susan Myers-Levy wrote when nominating Sober Island Brewing. “I look forward to watching her company grow while at the same time putting Sheet Harbour on the map.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty, Atkinson thinks most of the beer industry will survive. She hopes there’s some good that comes out of it, with more people supporting local businesses.
“I like to help people,” she says. “I thrive off of that. If there’s a way that I can do it, then I will certainly do it.”