Success of family-run business grounded in relentless focus on customers, community and employees
YPSILANTI, Michigan – What started as a pub in downtown Ann Arbor in the early 1900s is now a successful family-owned, fifth-generation beer distributor employing over 180 people in southeast Michigan. Celebrating their 90th year in business, O&W Inc. continues to build on its legacy of community involvement and social responsibility, while keeping customers and employees at the forefront of all they do.
“We’re excited to celebrate our 90th year in business serving seven counties across southeast Michigan as a fifth-generation, family-run business,” said Kit Wanty-Lambert, president of O&W Inc. “Our family remains committed to delivering the best products and services to our customers while enriching the communities where we live and work for generations to come.”
The company was born from humble beginnings, first opening in 1917 as the Union Bar in Ann Arbor. The Union Bar (now known as Old Town Tavern) became James O’Kane Distributing — the ‘O’ in O&W — after prohibition ended in 1933. Twenty years later, Hugh Wanty and James O’Kane teamed up to create O&W Inc., and the business steadily flourished.
Over the years, the company acquired small distributors to gradually expand its service-area footprint to seven counties including Washtenaw, Livingston, Jackson, Hillsdale, Lenawee, Monroe and Wayne counties. In 2003, the company’s present-day warehouse was built in Ypsilanti as a more central location to its service area, and deliveries increased to a record-breaking 5 million cases in 2019.
The key to the company’s success has been its focus on employees, customers, the community and environmentally sustainable practices.
“We are an employee-first company, and we work hard to create a work environment that is both exciting and rewarding,” said Isabel Wanty, vice president of operations at O&W. “That employee-first philosophy extends to the communities we proudly serve, and we’ve made it part of our mission to give back by supporting local businesses and charities.”
O&W also puts a high priority on environmental business practices. Bio-diesel fuel powers the company’s fleet of 31 semi-trucks, and glass and aluminum cans are collected from retailers and processed for recycling. Large fans in the warehouse circulate air to reduce heating and cooling costs while LED-censored lighting and EcoTek cooler controls maximize electricity usage and efficiency.
With the fifth generation at the helm of the O&W Inc. leadership team including Kit Wanty-Lambert, president; Jamie Wanty, vice president of marketing; Cooper Wanty, vice president of finance and Isabel Wanty, vice president of operations, this family-run business is poised to serve future generations of small businesses and consumers looking for a variety of beer options to meet every consumer’s needs.
O&W’s current fifth-generation leadership team from left to right: Isabel Wanty, VP of operations; Cooper Wanty, VP of finance; Jamie Wanty, VP of marketing and Kit Wanty-Lambert, president
O&W’s Ypsilanti-based warehouse
O&W’s fourth generation of ownership, left to right: Jim Wanty, Marilyn Wanty, Hugh Wanty and Doug Wanty
Marilyn and Hugh Wanty (pictured on the front right)
James O’Kane & Hazel (Seagert) O’Kane
William Seagert, who started it all and also owned Old Town, which at the time was named the Union Bar.
Historical photo of the Old Town Tavern