A new era for a historic business

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Jon Spacher and Benn Fee Spacher are fifth-generation owners of Fee Brothers. (Photo courtesy of Fee Brothers)

Jon Spacher and Benn Fee Spacher are brimming with enthusiasm about keeping a Rochester legacy growing. They are the new and fifth-generation owners of Fee Brothers, a producer of cocktail mixes, bitters and other products for the bar and restaurant industries and food service operations.

Descendants of one of the original four Fee brothers, John Fee, they now step into roles previously filled by their aunt Ellen Fee and late uncle Joe Fee. Ellen plans to stay on as a consultant to ensure a seamless leadership transition. Jon Spacher, who worked in the insurance industry for more than two decades, is CEO with responsibility for global sales and administration. He most recently was a regional president at Main Street America Insurance. Benn Fee Spacher serves as chief operating officer, overseeing all aspects of production and worldwide distribution.

Fee Brothers—launched in 1864—is coming off a year of double-digit growth, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The outlook is positive.

“We were lucky to be deemed an essential business as we’re classified as a food manufacturer,” says Jon Spacher. “Now, in 2021, our orders are up 35 percent. It’s a great problem to have.”

The business, which employs 10 full-time workers, is looking to hire three to four more people to help with production. Rochester will continue to be an essential part of Fee Brothers’ history, Jon Spacher says.

“Our Uncle Joe got a kick out of a very specific thought and we do too: We are driving money, from around the country and around the world, into the Rochester economy,” he says.

The Rochester Beacon posed a few questions to the Spachers as they take the helm at Fee Brothers. Their responses are below. 

ROCHESTER BEACON: Why did you make the decision to become owners of Fee Brothers?  

JON SPACHER: Our mother is Mary Fee Spacher. Her younger siblings, Joe and Ellen Fee, were the fourth-generation owners of Fee Brothers. When our Uncle Joe passed unexpectedly, Benn and I came to our Aunt Ellen to see how we could best support her. I’ve always had a mind for business and Benn has a great mind for processes. Benn is also great at fixing things, like the production machinery. Our support of Ellen lead to conversations about transitioning the business. By April of 2020, we charted a course to become the fifth-generation owners on Jan. 1.

Our grandparents lived upstairs from the factory, so every time we visited them since we were born, we would be coming to Fee Brothers. We have a lot of pride in our family’s history and the history of the business. We love that Fee Brothers has always been in Rochester, N.Y., because we love our hometown. We have a lot of faith in the Fee Brothers crew, who we’ve known for many years. Last but not least, Fee Brothers has great products and a great reputation around the world. I don’t know how we couldn’t be excited about this opportunity to be her fifth-generation stewards!

ROCHESTER BEACON: How do you plan to grow the business?

JON SPACHER: This is a normal question to ask any new business owner, yet our growth has been astronomical without us even trying to grow. Fee Brothers was growing double digits leading up to 2020. Then, we grew 20 percent through 2020, despite, or perhaps because of COVID. We were lucky to be deemed an essential business as we’re classified as a food manufacturer. Now, in 2021, our orders are up 35 percent. It’s a great problem to have!

Jon Spacher

We’re looking to hire more production folks to join our Fee Brothers crew. The team is working overtime to fulfill orders. Last month, we had our largest production month ever and the orders keep coming like we’ve never seen before. Our crew amazes us every single day—from our front-office team to our production and shipping teams. There’s more going into those bottles than just great recipes; there’s a spirit born from Prohibition history and the most positive and determined crew mixing, filling, packing, and shipping each bottle with a lot of pride. The world has called for more Fee Brothers and our crew is stepping up to answer that call. That’s our growth plan. We’re incredibly lucky to have the privilege of leading a family business that is so beloved—the world over.

ROCHESTER BEACON: As you take ownership, what do you think are strengths of the business and what areas need improvement?  

SPACHER: Our primary strength is our relationships. Relationships with our distributors, bars and restaurants, bartenders and baristas. I’d like to think that these relationships have been built on our good name and quality products. Additionally are the relationships that we have with our Fee Brothers crew: every day we try to take care of them as well as they take care of the business. The relationships we have with our suppliers, vendors, and consultants, without whom we would be a rudderless ship. Every business is built on relationships and we’re lucky to have great relationships in all aspects of our business. We’re a for-profit business that needs to make profitable decisions to ensure a sustainable future. That’s a fact. But the heart and soul of what we do is relationships.

As for the area in which we need the most improvement, I think we’re in the same boat as so many other businesses right now: we’re looking to hire more production workers and we’re not having the luck we had hoped to find them. I’ve heard this from bars, restaurants, and other manufacturers, food and otherwise. Our starting wage is above minimum wage. We have the best benefits package I’ve ever seen. We fill a PTO bank on day 1 and have paid holidays. Not to mention, we’re a fun team making drink mixes every day! Yet, we’re having a hard time finding a few more hires for the production team? We feel for all the other businesses in the same predicament.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What can the community expect from Fee Brothers and its new leadership?  

JON SPACHER: The Rochester community can expect that we’ll continue to carry the torch and do our hometown proud. There’s a lot of history that Fee Brothers and Rochester have created together. We will keep that going. Our Uncle Joe got a kick out of a very specific thought and we do too: We are driving money, from around the country and around the world, into the Rochester economy. We are bringing money to Rochester, we’re creating jobs, and we’re helping people take care of their families. We LOVE being part of a business that does that. 

While we’re part of the Rochester community, we’re also part of the worldwide cocktail and coffee communities. What can they expect? That we’re going to continue delivering quality products. That we will continue to do everything we can to meet the growing demand. That we will continue listening to our customers to understand what they need and, as Fee Brothers has done for generations, we will find ways to meet those needs. We’re not looking to fix something that isn’t broken. We’re looking to put one foot in front of the other and continue being the Fee Brothers that everyone has known and loved.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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