No extra charge

Gregg Mineo sent me the following story about Sabra Liqueur. It was originally developed and introduced in 1963 by  Edgar Sr. Currently it’s produced by Carmel wineries, I believe.

Back in the days of the Seagram Empire, before the industry centralized and contracted, there were small companies like Park Avenue Imports.  They sold cordials and niche products like Vandermint, Cherry Suisse and, of course, the inimitable Sabra.

Sabra was a quality product, made from Jaffa oranges and Swiss chocolate.  It was packaged in a unique bottle similar to a Genie bottle, but unfortunately didn’t have a long shelf life.  I think in my early days of sampling Sabra, I gave more away than I sold.  It was a hit in assisted living care facilities, and of course Miami.

Well, as the story goes, one of the established retailers in Miami started selling Sabra at a brisk pace, and developed a loyal following, especially with a particular gentleman who was buying a bottle once a month.  He began buying it before the brand took off in this store, and one day came back to return one of the bottles he purchased.  He complained that this bottle of Sabra was not the same product he was used to, that it lacked something special he really enjoyed.

The retailer asked what the difference was, and the customer responded that “it didn’t have the chocolate bits in it.”

Stifling a laugh, the retailer offered him something else; all the while knowing that the bottles of Sabra the customer was used to had passed the expected shelf life. Obviously, the customer didn’t care.

What I want to know is — were the chocolate bits available at no extra charge?

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Those Seagram Folks

I was talking to a fellow Seagram Alum the other day and the conversation turned to what made Seagram unique and where people are today.

He pointed out that ex-Seagram folks occupy top positions in many companies in the industry.

He’s right; all of the top 5 spirits companies have former Seagram people in very senior spots. When you think about it further, the Seagram folks play important roles throughout the industry – suppliers, distributors, retailers and service providers.

I suppose it’s because of a number of things that characterized the company back in the day. Perhaps it was the combination of self-confidence (some would say arrogance) and humbleness. A belief that there was a Seagram way to do things and getting it done didn’t have to be in an overbearing manner. Strength of conviction combined with respect.

Me? I think Seagram people learned to adapt, survive, flourish and succeed because of the common enemy. Sort of like a successful person who grew up with dysfunctional parents but knew he could survive if he relied on his siblings. In short, it’s called camaraderie.

They did us a favor by shutting the lights.

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Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves

The Bronfman family changed the face of the booze business in America. Old Mr. Sam, regardless of what he did or did not do during prohibition, was smart enough when it ended to hold off shipping goods until they aged, had great taste and would command a premium price.

In his grandson’s office – that would be Edgar Bronfman Jr. – there was a photo of Mr. Sam with the caption, “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” That was his way of saying from nothing to nothing. In a biography on A&E, Edgar Jr. looked into the camera and earnestly said, “not on my watch.”

Not long after, at the turn of the century, the “genius,” as he was referred to, sold the birthright for a song.

No worries…the family holdings must have gone from $8 Billion to $3 Billion, I suppose. But, still a boatload of money.

Not quite shirtsleeves but prophetic nonetheless.

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