Chicken-fried foie gras, grilled quail, and striped bass with smoked strawberry gazpacho. The five-course Privateer Rum dinner at Salt Kitchen & Rum Bar in Ipswich last month was a far cry from peanut butter and jelly and mac and cheese—food stuffs a select group of guests at the restaurant’s first-ever pairing dinner is all too familiar with.
Those dozen or so diners—all parents of local elementary school students– were gathered at a corner table, enjoying a rare evening out compliments of Privateer International, the Ipswich-based distiller.
The dinner was a thank you for the parents’ participation in a unique partnership. The group works school-friendly shifts a few hours a week at the distiller, hand-labeling the company’s bottles, and in exchange earns money that they can keep or donate to their childrens’ schools. The brainchild of Privateer Founder Andrew Cabot and Christopher DeStefano, the company’s director of tours and hospitality, the partnership enables the company to keep up with growing demand for its product by investing in the community, rather than an expensive labeling machine.
The collegial gossiping and joking amongst the group quieted when Privateer Head Distiller Maggie Campbell spoke to the guests about the spirits they were enjoying—and offered a special thank you to the corner table, causing them to duck their heads modestly.
“It means a lot to have that hand touch from people in the community,” Campbell told the group. It means a lot to the schools, too. The workers can choose to collect their hourly wage, currently $15 per hour, or donate a portion or the full amount to the schools. Whatever the parent chooses to donate, Privateer will match. And if the parent donates their entire $15 per hour wage, Privateer adds $5 per hour then matches it, giving a total of $40 per hour worked. Thus far, the partnership has resulted in more than $6,000 donated by Privateer to the town’s two elementary schools, Paul F. Doyon Memorial and Winthrop School.
It takes a certain amount of dexterity to produce a worthy bottle. Each one gets a front and back label, then the back labels are hand-signed. Every worker has a story about bottles dropped or mislabeled—but even mislabeling has its perks. Sometimes when a bottle is messed up, the guilty party gets to take it home.
It’s clear from the chat about the cocktails served over the course of the evening—one for each of the five courses—that the parents are more than a set of hands. They’ve become ambassadors for the brand. The companions spoke knowledgeably about each offering, from the distiller’s Navy Rum, aged for three years and presented as a daiquiri using simple syrup made from the company’s sugar, to the Gin and the Silver and Amber rums.
“It’s definitely one of the most interesting elementary school fundraisers I’ve ever heard of,” says Britt Garland, one of the labelers and president of the Friends of Ipswich Elementary Schools/Doyon, the school’s parent-teacher organization. She says the money is used for everything from afterschool enrichments to items that teachers request –from playground balls to iPads. “It’s always nice to do something where the money goes directly to the schools.” And craft cocktails, foie gras and gossip? That’s just a really great perk.