VOL. 129 | NO. 174 | Monday, September 8, 2014
Big River Distilling to Start Production Next Month
By Andy Meek
A group of founders with long-standing family ties to Memphis, including sons of FedEx founder Fred Smith, is in the process of launching Big River Distilling Co. LLC, a local vodka distillery which will start production next month.
The craft distiller, at 802 Royal Ave., will make and market Pyramid Vodka, and the group of investors and founders behind the project includes Richard and Cannon Smith, as well as Alexander and Winston Folk, brothers and grandsons of the late founder of Folk’s Folly, Humphrey Folk Jr.
“There were really three things that got me excited about being involved with these guys,” co-owner and investor Richard Smith told The Daily News. “I liked the two young men proposing this venture. They seemed like good, bright, honest, hard-working young men and folks I’d be happy to do business with. The second thing is their whole concept was somewhat unique, in that it was trying to take it from grain to glass all in Memphis, and a lot of your major craft spirits are not distilled locally. They’re imported into the market, and sometimes they may do something to them in the local market so they can claim they’re made locally.”
Another reason Smith said he wanted to get involved was the “healthy growth rate” for the craft vodka business. It’s taking off especially in foreign markets like Europe, China – “some of your major metropolitan centers in Asia and Europe” – which is why the owners say they think Pyramid Vodka has the potential to evolve into a national and possibly a global brand.
The ingredients for the vodka, which takes only about eight days to produce, all come from farms in a 100-square-mile radius. Smith added that the venture already is seeing a positive response from potential customers, local bars and restaurants that want to carry the Pyramid Vodka label, which will be made available through both wholesale and retail channels.
Smith said he pitched the venture to his brother Cannon to get him involved, “and he jumped all over it.” Smith didn’t have an immediate number on how many people the local venture might employ, but he did note that “the sky’s the limit.”
“What we want to do is grow the business right here in Memphis,” he said. “Our plan is to never outsource. And we’ll hopefully be able to grow (the employment) as the business scales. I think this is going to be great for Memphis.”