Ypsi-based beer distributor celebrates 90 years in business, 5th generation of family ownership

Ypsilanti-based beer distributor O&W Inc. has been a family affair for more than 90 years. The business began as a pub, Old Town Tavern, in downtown Ann Arbor in the early 1900s and transitioned to a beer distributor that now employs more than 180 people. (Old Town Tavern, which is still in operation, has changed ownership several times since then.) This year, O&W celebrates its 90th year in business, just two years after the business officially passed to a fifth generation.

That fifth generation consists of co-owners Kit Wanty-Lambert, the company's president; her sister, Jamie Wanty, who serves as vice president of marketing; and their cousins Cooper Wanty, VP of finance, and Isabel Wanty, VP of operations.

"We all grew up going to the warehouse, and honestly, it was fun. That is how we got to see our grandparents, because they were always at work," Wanty-Lambert says. 

She notes that because the industry's tools and marketing changes over time, beer distributors tend to be "treasure chests of photos and memorabilia."

"We have a lot of cool historical material, and a lot of it is scanned because we took it to a trade show," Wanty-Lambert says. "We have things like the original Michigan Liquor Control code books, and some of the first injury reports and workers comp reimbursements."

As far as Wanty-Lambert knows, O&W is one of only two beer businesses in Michigan that opened as soon as Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and are still owned by the same family.

"Our liquor license is 007,"  Wanty-Lambert says. "That means we were the seventh license granted in Michigan. I don't know many other businesses that were passed down to the fifth generation like our family's was. My kids work here, too, and they're the sixth generation."

She notes that it's humbling to be the fifth generation in a family business.

"We're just caretakers. We're only here for a certain amount of time before our kids will want to come into the business," Wanty-Lambert says. "It's a fun industry, and it's changing all the time,  but it's an exciting place to be."

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of O&W Inc.
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