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TWELVE WHO’VE TRAVELED THE WET ROAD TO RICHES

By D Magazine |

HERE’S A WHO’S Who of the major liquor, wine and beer wholesalers who peddle their firewater in Dallas:



DISTILLED SPIRITS



Lone Star Co.

With annual sales in excess of $200 million, Dallas-based Lone Star is the largest liquor wholesaler in Texas. And it’s no wonder: Lone Star represents such big-name distilleries as Schenley, Austin-Nichols, National and Hiram Walker; it distributes such popular brands as Canadian Club, Wild Turkey, Cutty Sark, J&B, Beefeater and Gil-bey’s Gin. Lone Star’s corporate predecessor, LeSage Co., went into business at the time of Prohibition’s repeal, and in 1949, owner Bob LeSage sold the company to his employees. Today, the company is 100 percent employee-owned (Lone Star officials say that 40 to 50 percent of the 715 employees are stockholders; employees are required to divest themselves of their stock holdings when they leave the company).

Although it has always been at or near the top, Lone Star went to the head of the pack when it bought out Dallas-based Penland Distributing Co., a company responsible for building a number of popular premiums in Texas, two years ago for an estimated $11 million. Lone Star also owns Accent Wine and Spirits, a Houston-based company that distributes wine in Dallas.

Since 1972, B.L. “Bobby” Watson, 55, has been the man at the helm. Watson has been an employee of Lone Star since 1946, when he began working as a display merchandiser. Although Lone Star is the biggest wholesaler in the state, it has only the second largest share of the Dallas liquor wholesale market.



The Julius Schepps Co.

His peers claim that the late Julius Schepps was the man whose civic-minded activities gave a respectable image to the Dallas liquor industry. The company, now run by Schepps’ son, Lee, and other family members, is the largest liquor wholesaler in Dallas. (The company is estimated to control as much as one-third of the local wholesale liquor market.) In addition, as the Dallas representative of Gallo wines, Schepps sells more wine than any other wholesaler in Dallas. Schepps is the Dallas wholesaler for Seagram Distilleries of New York City. Schepps distributes such popular liquor brands as Seagram V.O., Jack Daniel’s, Bacardi, Smirnoff, Chivas Regal, Old Forester, Early Tunes and Jose Cuervo. The late Schepps immigrated to the United States near the turn of the century from Zaboline, Russia (a small farming community near Warsaw), and started his own bakery. He entered the liquor business after repeal. Since then, the company has become one of the largest independent liquor and wine wholesalers in Texas.



Max Golman Wholesale Liquor Co.

Established 20 years ago, Golman Co. is the new kid on the block in the wholesale liquor business. Martin Golman took over when his father, Max, died in 1974, and he says that the business now has roughly a 14-percent market share in Dallas, which would make it No. 3 in local liquor volume. With a little financial help from his close friend, Julius Schepps, the late Golman followed Schepps to the United States near the turn of the century, leaving the same Russian community. In 1949, Max Golman left his job with The Julius Schepps Co. to work for Texas Wine and Liquor Co. In 1960, he was vice president of Buford-Penland Distributing Co., which is now owned by Lone Star Co., and in 1964 established the company that bears his name. Some of Golman’s more popular sellers include Dewar’s White Label, I.W. Harper, McCormick Vodka and Tequila Aztec, the No. 1 selling tequila in Dallas. “We’re very involved in the Mexican community in Dallas,” says Martin Golman. “We sell more tequila in Dallas than anybody else.”



Glazers Wholesale Drug Co.

Robert Glazer, secretary-treasurer of Glazers, flatly says that he would just as soon not even be mentioned in any stories about the liquor industry. “We’re a low-profile company-we don’t even give information to Dunn and Bradstreet,” he says. “We just don’t look for publicity. That’s our personal family style.” Glazers is a family owned company that’s been in the liquor business since 1938. Prior to that, it distributed soft drinks. Robert Glazer’s father was born in Chicago and migrated to Dallas in 1908. His uncle, Nolan Glazer, is currently president of the company. Glazers, which distributes liquor in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona, is headquartered in Dallas. Some of its better-known labels include Gordon’s Gin and Vodka, Southern Comfort, Ezra Brooks, Canadian Mist and Old Kentucky Tavern.



Longhorn Liquors Ltd.

Even though its name has changed over the years, Arlington-based Longhorn has been in the liquor business since repeal. Principal owner Jay Bratcher has been president since 1959, and over the years he’s taken on financial partners that include Sixties TCU football star and All-American Frank Horak and Arthur Wirtz, the late owner of the Chicago Black Hawks hockey team. Bratcher was instrumental in convincing Wirtz to move his minor-league hockey team to Dallas in 1967, and, as a result of that move, Bratcher became president of the Dallas Black Hawks from 1967 until 1979, when the team left Dallas. Longhorn’s biggest success story has been its aggressive marketing of W.L. Weller, which Bratcher claims outsold Jack Daniel’s in Dallas last year. Longhorn also distributes Taaka Vodka, Jamie ’08, Ballentine’s, Old Heaven Hill and Kentucky Deluxe.



BEER



Ben E. Keith Co.

Ben E. Keith Co., which claims to be the largest Anheuser-Busch distributor in the world, distributes Budweiser and Bud Light, Michelob and Michelob Light and Natural Light and Classic Dark in Dallas and Collin Counties, but it also has branch distributorships in Denton, Terrell, Mineral Wells, Abilene, Commerce and Palestine. Ben E. Keith Co. was first incorporated in 1906 as a Fort Worth produce company, but was named the Anheuser distributor for Dallas at repeal. (The company still has a large fruit and vegetable division.) Today, it’s primarily controlled by Robert and Howard Hallam. The Hallams are often described by associates as “civic-minded, classy people.” Depending upon who you listen to and how private industry figures are computed, Keith Co. and Willow Distributors (Coors) generally split a 60-percent market share in Dallas beer sales, with one or the other sometimes gaining a slight advantage.



Willow Distributors Inc.

Raymond Willie Jr., 59, majority stockholder of Willow Distributors (Coors, Coors Light, George Killian’s and Herman Joseph’s), says he married into the alcoholic beverage business. He married Brooksie Penland in 1953, and worked for his fatherin-law, Buford Penland, owner of Penland Distributors, from 1955 to 1966.

In 1965 when Adolph Coors of Colorado was looking for a Dallas distributor, Willie put his name in the hat. He and a few other investors opened the Dallas distributorship in 1966, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In December of 1976, after he and Brook-sie were divorced, Willie and his sole partner, former Lone Star Beer distributor William D. Barrett (who holds 49 percent of Willow’s stock), bought out the stock holdings of two former partners and Willie’s ex-wife.

Willie broke up the local beer wholesaler’s organization five or six years ago when he dropped out of the group after a feud with the local Schlitz distributors, who alleged that Willie had publicly used the private sales figures to tout Coors’ success locally. Willow owns roughly a 30-percent chunk of the Dallas beer market.



Miller of Dallas

Lite Beer was unknown in the late Sixties when Philip Morris bought out its brewers, Miller Brewing Co. It wasn’t until a few years later that a successful marketing strategy by the company revolutionized the beer industry. Until the familiar Lite commercials made it macho to drink a beer lower in calories, Lite was a little lean on sales itself. Now Lite has made the Miller Beer franchise the No. 3 market locally. The luck’ owners: Tom White and Barry Andrews, two business partners from Corpus Christi who were Miller distributors in the South Texas counties of Nueces, San Pa-tricio and Aransas. Miller awarded the distributorship to the two in 1980 after becoming disenchanted with its distributor, Billy Bob Barnett and partners, who reportedly weren’t selling enough draft beer in Dallas to keep the brewery happy.



S.H. Lynch and Co.

It was a beer from Motown that breathed new life into the Lynch distributorship only a year ago. With Schlitz dwindling in popularity, Lynch honchos were more than happy to introduce Dallas to Stroh’s, a popular brew from Detroit. After a successful marketing campaign, Lynch officials say that the beer is doing well in Dallas, and they expect sizable increases in Lynch’s share of the local market. Lynch also distributes Schlitz, Schaeffer, Heineken, Moosehead Beer, Old Milwaukee, Carta Blanca and Cerveza Teca-te beers. It also owns the Southwest distributor for Adidas sportswear.

Over the past years, founder S.H. Lynch has sold Edison Phonographs, Seeburg Music Machines, motorcycles and Rolls-Royces. At repeal, the company secured the distributorship for the now-defunct Grand Prize Beer. Lynch died a few years ago, but his family remains the majority owner, along with Arthur C. Hughes (who, in 1968, became an ordained Catholic priest at 76), a part owner of the company. The fourth largest Dallas beer distributor is currently run by two former Schlitz Brewing Co. execs, T.A. Gunn Jr. and Bill Albright.



Central Beverage Inc.

There’s excitement in the air at Central with the recent announcement that the company has been awarded the Dallas distributorship for Olympia, a popular beer from the Northwest. Company officials hope that the beer will increase Central’s market share from 8 to 13 percent, according to president Bullitt Fitzhugh. Central distributes such beers as Pabst Blue Ribbon, Pearl, Carting, Heileman Shiner and Country Club Malt Liquor. Central sold about l.5 million cases of beer last year; its sales were in excess of $12 million. Since shortly after Prohibition, Central has been primarily an operation of the Fitzhugh family (Fitzhugh Avenue is named for them) and has been passed down from grandfather Bullitt to his son, W.A., and his 29-year-old grandson, Bullitt.



Oley Distributing Co.

Last may be least, but last isn’t all bad. Oley Distributing Co., owned by Phil O’Neal, is the distributor of Lone Star, Drewrys, Heileman Special Export and San Miguel beers in Dallas, Tarrant, Denton, Wise, Johnson and Hood counties. Oley was recently awarded the Olympia distributorship in Fort Worth.



WINE



American Wine and Importing Co.

Doing an annual statewide business in excess of $50 million (mostly in wines), American was in the wine business before drinking wine was cool. American-the Dallas wholesaler representing expensive fine Italian wines and such popular labels as Riunite, Blue Nun and Ruffino-is the second largest wine-only wholesaler in the market, and the only wine wholesale company with a large share of the action. President Tony LaBarba boasts that the company has 4,000 different wine items in its cellars. “We’re the Mercedes of the wine business,” he says. American Wine is a subsidiary of another family business, American Produce and Vegetable Co., which was established by Tony’s father in 1917 after he immigrated to the United States from a town near Palermo, Sicily.

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