Indiana Beer Distributor Celebrates 80th Business Anniversary
United Beverage Co. of South Bend, Indiana, is celebrating its 80th business anniversary this year.
Today, United Beverage employs 65 people and distributes to three counties in Indiana. The company’s recent anniversary celebration included a breakfast held for all current and past employees, and the company plans to hold an awards dinner to celebrate the employees who have contributed to its success.
The multi-generational beer distribution company has a rich history defined by family and perseverance.
Rudy Heintzelman decided to become a wholesaler of beer following the 21st Amendment’s passage in 1933. He filed for a federal permit in Washington, D.C., and was one of the first to apply for an Indiana beer wholesaler permit. About six years after its creation, United Beverage Co. procured the distribution rights for Detroit’s Stroh’s beer along with other popular brands such as Old Dutch, Sterling, Champagne Velvet, Hamm’s, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Miller High Life.
Business was not always easy. After the start of World War II, there was a shortage of cans, bottle caps and fuel; employees were drafted; trucks were unobtainable; and brewing was reduced. But the company persevered through the tough times.
In the 1960s, Heintzelman teamed up with his son-in-law Matthew Dee who became the company’s operations manager. A few years later, Dee began to run the business and he expanded the company to a single-level facility. Around this time, they decided to discontinue selling wines and champagnes to dedicate all their efforts to beer.
In the 1970s, Heintzelman sold the business to the next generation – his son-in-law Matthew and daughter Lynn, who would eventually become the sole owner of the distributorship. At this time, Dee became very active in industry affairs and served as vice president of the Beer Distributors of Indiana.
Like during World War II, the late 1970s proved to be another tough time for the company. Troubles struck the beer distribution industry when Indiana Governor Bowen adopted a rule prohibiting exclusive beer territories, which created a disorderly market including sales of transshipped, stale beer. Eventually this rule forced 25 distributors out of business. In 1980, United lost 50% of its sales volume and Matthew and Lynn Dee ran the company without taking a salary. Overall, Indiana would lose more than 100 distributors in the 1980s.
To counter the tough times, United started buying up struggling neighboring distributors. Over the next seven years, United bought five distributors which helped them stay afloat during the tough economic times and stabilize their business for the ensuing decades.
Matthew Dee, who served as chair of the National Beer Wholesalers Association in 1990, retired in 2002 and sold his remaining shares of United Beverage Co. to its fourth generation of operators. Today, Dee’s son-in law Len Nelson is active in the business, along with Matt Nelson (Len’s son) and Chris Turnblom (Len’s son-in-law). Even after 80 years, the United Beverage businesses motto continues to be “Family, Longevity, and Success.”