Ask Martin Silver what makes him most proud about his life – aside from his children and two grand-children, Zach and Ben – and he says, without hesitation, the rainbow flavors of vodka he has created over his lengthy career.
Silver, chief executive officer of Syosset-based Star Industries, known for its highly-popular Georgi brands that are now the largest selling vodka in New York State, is celebrating his company’s 82nd year in business. The family-owned, privately-held company is expanding heavily into other states.
And it all started in Sunnyside, Queens.
Silver’s father, Louis, was an accountant who got into the spirits business in 1934, and secured one of New York State’s first liquor licenses after Prohibition ended. Louis Silver operated a small business on Queens Boulevard, and the family lived in Belle Harbor. Louis brought his son Martin into the business in 1968, after Martin did a stint in the U.S. Army.
The company moved to larger quarters in Long Island City before settling in its current location where production and importing are done.
While Silver is justifiably proud of the way the business has grown over the years, he stresses that the true importance of Star Industries is the variety of brands it produces. The Georgi brands are so popular that, according to one story Silver has heard, one customer loved the product so much that he requested the vodka be mixed in with his ashes when he died.
“I don’t know if it ever happened, but it’s an interesting story,” Silver says.
Star Industries offers four vodkas – Georgi, Majorska, Alexi and Alexis, and they come in 18 different flavors, including Apple Cider, Orange, French Vanilla, Mango and Peach. The first flavored vodka, Orange, was produced in 1994.
Georgi vodkas are four times distilled, making them purer and richer in flavor.
The company also produces three types of gin – Georgi, Carnaby’s and Little John.
It also offers seven flavors of Caribaya rum, Dorado Tequila, Lord’s Cordials & Liqueurs and Donegal Estates Irish Whiskey, as well as Casaleo Wines from Italy including Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese, and wines from South America, such as Malbec, Chardonnay and Torrontes.
Silver is among the chief tasters of the flavored vodkas, a talent he learned from his father.
“We try to find out which flavors are popular and we create the flavors working with various flavor companies,” Silver said.
Silver has a quick smile, a hearty laugh and an easy manner about him. He is a huge sports fan, sharing ownership with partners of the Wilmington Blue Docks, a farm team of the Kansas City Royals. A few years ago, Silver led an investors group in an unsuccessful bid to buy the New York Mets.
He enjoys the taste part of his job.
“But we don’t just accept any flavor,” Silver said. “We need it to be the exact flavor. We taste and taste and then send the samples back (to the flavor companies) unless they are perfect. Take orange, for example. It’s got to taste like oranges.”
Star Industries’ growth is continuing. In the last year, the company has caught the pioneer spirit, heading westward, and doing business in midwestern states including Indiana, Missouri, Illinois and Texas. Other states are planned for the future.
To Silver, the future looks bright. “The future is to develop new brands in new categories,” he said. His competitors, he said, don’t like to develop new brands because of the costs involved. But such work is something Silver also loves. “I was born into this business. It’s in my blood.”
And, apparently, it’s in the blood of his grandchildren, too. Whenever he is at dinner with Zach and Ben, he says they point out Georgi vodka brands. One called him from a faraway vacation to report he had sighted it. “He was all excited,” Silver said.
The enthusiasm for the business apparently runs in the family.