Original video produced by Adam Kaufman.
Amid the ongoing coronavirus health crisis, one winery in Maryland has found a creative way to allow customers to follow safe social distancing protocols while still permitting them to stock up on the libations they love.
Meet Soda Pup, a dog who delivers wine.
Stone House Urban Winery in Hagerstown is now offering curbside pickup, courtesy of its only furry four-legged employee.
“After we could no longer have our guests come into the winery in a social setting, I noticed that Soda was looking a little sad,” Stone House owner Lori Yata told TODAY of the 75-pound, 11-year-old brindle boxer.
“You see, every time the door would chime, Soda would jump up to greet whomever was coming in. It was so funny — when a regular guest would come in, their head would swivel over to Soda's bed and he would be acknowledged before the rest of us,” she said.
On March 20, Yata decided to purchase a saddle bag meant for horses and then posted a note on Facebook to see if she could get some of Soda's old pals to visit.
"So, mom has been filling me in on this Covid-19 (sic) virus thing and she says that it is REALLY affecting small businesses like our little winery," Yata posted, writing as Soda. "Mom says that we all have to pitch in and pull our weight, that includes me as well."
To place an order, customers may call Stone House ahead of time to get recommendations and secure bottles. Then, to get doggy delivery, when customers get to the parking lot, they can just call the winery to alert the staff that they're ready for Soda.
“When we get the call, I hold up Soda's vest and he hurries on over. Not exaggerating, he really hurries over and stands ready,” Yata said.
“I put a couple treats in the pack, a bag for the wine, and the two bottles of wine. I then open the door and he marches on up the walk to the curb and parking lot to deliver the wine," Yata continued. "I do have to make sure there are no critters around, such as geese, squirrels, bunnies etc. ... Come on, he is a dog!"
Soda is so smart that he learned to do the job without any new training.
“I just put the pack on him and off he went. The first couple times he whacked the door frame getting out, but we've worked on that and we've not had a problem since. Boxers are really smart, sometimes too smart for their britches, but always willing to do your bidding,” Yata said.
Soda seems to enjoy his new occupation — and the extra treats — just as much as customers enjoy seeing Soda bring them wine.
“As soon as he sees me pick up his vest, he is at my side. I truly think he loves to have a job. It gets him out to see his friends,” Yata added.
“People who have never been to the winery come just to have Soda bring out their wine," she said, noting that she's been getting a lot of calls lately specifically about her dog. "They give Soda so much love and attention when he gives them their wine, it just warms my heart."
It turns out that using a sweet delivery furperson may also be a good financial move.
"Some customers will buy more bottles of wine so their kids can see Soda deliver it. Again, it puts a smile on so many faces, young and old," Yata said.
When the quarantine is over, Yata said Soda, who is a senior dog, might not do all of their curbside deliveries, but it may be an option they'll keep for customers who can't physically leave their cars to pick up a purchase. Otherwise, the boxer's friends will always be able to visit him inside the winery where he loves to hang out.
“Soda has been by my side through some of the toughest times of my life," Yata said. "Once again, he is by my side when I have no idea how this small business is going to survive these most difficult times."
Yata said the entire Stone House family is incredibly grateful to her local community for the continued support of her business. But she's also truly thankful to have a furry companion who is bringing joy to others during this stressful time.
Said the winery owner, “If Soda puts a smile on at least one face, then he has completed his mission in life.”