In the midst of the 2009 recession, Jim Finke noticed something.
Sales of liquor and fine spirits remained strong while nearly every other sector of the economy was tanking. In rough times, spirits sales have always remained remarkably steady, and in good times, liquor sales have increased rather robustly.
>> RELATED: Spirits and sales are high at fast-growing Buckeye Vodka (February 2014)
So Finke, his brother and a few other associates decided to launch a new venture, and in 2011, Dayton-based Buckeye Vodka was born. In seven short years, the brand has been keenly successful, as a visit to any Dayton-area bar will attest.
We caught up with Finke, our Daytonian of the Week, to find out more about him, and the spirited company for which he serves as CEO.
What has Buckeye Vodka been up to lately, and what’s coming in the months ahead for Dayton’s largest distillery?
We have been keeping our nose to the grindstone trying to provide our city and our state with the highest-quality product possible at a great price. As you know, we taste test every batch against the best-selling brands to ensure Buckeye Vodka is the smoothest and best product on the shelf. We recently hired another rep to help take care of our growing customer base and to help take our brand to the next level. We are looking at expansion into some other states, and we are discussing some other exciting possibilities that I am not at liberty to share at this time.
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Freshly distilled and filtered Buckeye Vodka flows into a container at the Dayton distillery and warehouse.
Photo: Ty Greenlees
What factors prompted you to settle in the Dayton area?
We researched the alcohol category in 2009. I was 51 years old and it was the worst economy I had ever experienced. The real estate bubble burst, there was a credit crisis and a number of banks failed. NCR had just announced it was pulling up roots and moving 1,300 good-paying jobs to Georgia. On the heels of that, the GM Assembly plant closed in December of that year. It was brutal. Everyone we knew — neighbors, friends, business owners — suffered the impacts from these events. In the midst of all this we were determined to do something positive in Dayton and the community.
>> RELATED: Brand new Buckeye Vodka is part of a national trend of micro-distillers producing premium spirits (April 2011)
Buckeye Vodka is a family business. Our family has been in Dayton for over 130 years. We were all born and raised here and were determined to do something positive in the midst of all the negativity. It was never a question where we would settle. Dayton is our home!
What’s been your most recent professional challenge, and how did you push through the challenge?
I suppose the biggest challenge in the last couple of years has been all of the changes that have happened in the liquor industry, which have forced us to change the way we conduct our business on a daily basis. Every aspect of liquor is controlled by the state. In the last three years there have been two software changes, a new distribution system and many rule changes that have affected the way stores operate. We push through by being patient and recommending changes to the state on processes that are not working at the street level. They do listen, but changes take time in any large operation. It is not always easy to be patient when you have a young company on a positive growth curve. These changes have forced us to alter our strategy and find new ways operate and promote Buckeye Vodka.
Buckeye Vodka CEO Jim Finke cleans out a tank a the Dayton distillery and warehouse.
Photo: Ty Greenlees
What are your favorite places to eat and/or drink in the Dayton area?
As you know, we have so much local talent across the entire food spectrum in Dayton. We have so many gifted and artistic chefs and mixologists. It doesn’t matter whether you are looking for a casual, mid-range or high-end meal or just a great place to have a drink and relax.
>> RELATED: Dayton-based Buckeye Vodka sales triple expectations (November 2011)
I honestly like to experience different places when we go out. I will say, however, that I like to support our local establishments and those that support local as well. I tend to stay away from national chains that will not support our local brands. We have a strong restaurant association locally that helps promote this, thanks to Amy Zahora and all the companies that support her organization, the Miami Valley Restaurant Association.
What inspires you about Dayton?
I think the thing that inspires me most about Dayton is the entrepreneurial spirit that exists here. I believe we come by it honestly. I encourage everyone to visit Dayton History at the Carillon Park if they haven’t been before. It is inspiring learning about all the great people and inventions born in our city.
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I also love the people of Dayton. We still invoke Midwest values. We sometimes get a bad rap as a city compared to other places, but anyone who knows Dayton understands what I am saying. It is a great place to raise a family.
Bottles wait to be filled with the locally-crafted Buckeye Vodka. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Chris Stewart/Chris Stewart
What do you think Dayton will look like in 10-15 years?
I see a vibrant city with a great future. That would have been hard to say Dayton 10 to 15 years ago. Fortunately we are blessed with a lot of talented and influential people who refuse to give up. We are witnessing the rebirth of our city. There have been so many cool changes. I visited the recently renovated Steam Plant on West Third Street and noticed small shops that have popped up that weren’t there a couple years ago.
We have a good mix of jobs and a great cost of living index. We are blessed with UD, Wright State and Sinclair. All three have made great moves to better educate their students and work with local companies to try and keep talented people here after they graduate. I think Dayton is perfectly set up for a bright future.