While jumping on pallets of beer in warehouses as a little boy 30 years ago, Christopher Bertoline noticed how his 80-year-old grandfather was still on top of his family business.
“He would be walking around telling people what to do,” Christopher said of his grandfather Nicholas, who is now passed.
Nicholas Berotline learned dedication and hard work from his father, Dominick – who started the business selling beer off the back of a truck in 1933. Nicholas taught the business to his sons, who have passed it down to their sons, making Peekskill-based Bertoline & Sons beverage distributors a fourth-generation run business. Twelve Bertoline men now run the business, which is the only large beer and beverage distributor of its kind in Westchester and Putnam counties.
“We are entrenched in the business and it looks like we will be for another generation,” said Dominick, 66, the current Chairman of the Board and President (Nicholas’ son).
The rest of the responsibilities of running the 79-year-old business with 120 employees are divided between Dominick’s three sons (ages 39, 36 and 30), and his three cousins.
“Ten percent of the company is Bertolines,” Dominick said smiling, sitting in his large office attached to the warehouse on Peekskill’s John Walsh Blvd. Through the floor to ceiling windows, ducks and geese swimming around the Hudson River cove behind the building gave a serene backdrop that matched Dominick’s relaxed demeanor.
“It is not a business to us, it is a way of life,” Dominick said. “Working together holds us together better than ever."
Dominick’s great-grandfather arrived in Peekskill from Italy in the late 1800s. During prohibition he worked as a traveling junk salesman, selling items from the back of a truck. In 1933, when prohibition ended, he added beer to the truck, which sold better than the junk, so he eliminated the junk and stuck with his best seller. From there, the business grew into what it now is today. It has stayed at the Peekskill riverfront the whole time, moving from Water Street to John Walsh Blvd. in 1985, when it was the first building in that area.
While many family businesses struggle, Bertoline & Sons is an unmistakable example of how family businesses can be successful.
The business is one of the oldest companies and biggest employers in Peekskill. Their products are sold everywhere from small delis a mile away from the warehouse to large hotels and supermarkets in the ritziest areas of Westchester.
“I view this whole company as pretty much a team and a family,” said Christopher, who was lured back to Bertoline after graduating from the University of Miami in 1999, even though he had another job lined up. He decided to take his father’s offer, one he couldn’t refuse, like his dad had 27 years earlier. Dominick had been working as a teacher at Assumption Church in 1972 when his dad offered him a better paying job at the warehouse.
Christopher said one of the most important things he learned from his dad is that you have to earn respect from employees. “Hard work pays off. If you work hard people want to work hard for you.”
While running the business is challenging and takes long hours and hard work, the family says, D. Bertoline & Sons is continuing to see success after eight decades in the business. They are in the process of adding a 10,000 square-foot annex to the 65,000 square foot facility they have on John Walsh Blvd. The expansion should open by September of this year.
This June, they celebrated one year of running a wine and liquor division that has been growing slowly, as they expected, but succeeding.
Until 2008, Bertoline had an agreement with Anheuser-Busch to sell only their products. Once In Bev purchased AB, Bertoline was no longer under an exclusive agreement and immediately took the opportunity to expand.
Since 2008, the business has taken on many non-alcoholic beverage franchises that include Monster Energy drinks, Polar, Arizona Iced Tea, Very Fine Juices, and many more.
“You have to be really on top of everything and able to change with the business environment,” Dominick said.
While business is the main focus for the family, Dominick emphasized that his father taught him to stay active in the community and he has continued the relationships his ancestors formed. The family has been involved with the Elks Club, Fire Department, Ambulance Corps, and Peekskill Hospital, now Hudson Valley Hospital Center, for decades, he said.
“We try to give back as much as we can and we learned this from our founding fathers,” Dominick said.
Today, the Bertoline’s will celebrate Father’s Day at Dominick’s house in Peekskill. No one will have to travel far, as all the Bertoline men live within two miles of each other between Cortlandt, Buchanan and Peekskill.
The newest Bertoline, the first female and grandchild in Dominick’s lineage, is Christopher’s two-year-old daughter Brie. Like all Bertolines, Brie is sure to hear all about the family business growing up. She will probably jump on pallets of beer in the warehouse and see her grandfather telling people what to do too. But, will she be the fifth generation and cause the family to change the name from Bertoline & Sons?
“I don’t know, I just want her to be a little girl first,” said Christopher, proud to be a father.
Happy Father's Day to the Bertolines and all the other dads reading this.