Carrie Rengers

Wichita’s Speakeasy Distribution opens as quietly as a speakeasy

When Ron Elkouri’s great-grandfather immigrated to Texas from Lebanon in 1932, he started a distribution company that’s been so successful it’s still in operation throughout eastern Texas today.

When Elkouri graduated from the University of Kansas in 2012, he thought he might join the family business.

Instead, though, he decided to follow his great-grandfather by becoming an entrepreneur like him.

“We have a lot of entrepreneurs in our family,” Elkouri says. “I thought I kind of want to make my own path.”

This year, he’s quietly opened Speakeasy Distribution with an unmarked warehouse at the southeast corner of 13th and Mosley.

Elkouri had been working for Wichita’s LDF Sales & Distributing in Oklahoma when in January he and a friend who had a contact with Minhas Craft Brewery visited the Wisconsin company.

“They wanted to come to Kansas, but they were worried about priority,” Elkouri says. “They thought why not go with a brand-new distributor and be their number one priority?”

Elkouri says he still can’t quite believe he got the deal.

“I, like, literally almost started crying,” he says. “We landed the ninth-largest craft brewery.”

He says he’s taking a different approach to succeed.

“We are infiltrating the market with craft beer that’s priced like domestics, and it’s working,” Elkouri says. “We’re in 106 liquor stores in two months of delivery. It’s unbelievable. … It’s been really successful. It’s crazy. I mean, I’ve got to hire five more people.”

So far, it’s just Elkouri making sales calls and a driver delivering the products to Wichita and the surrounding areas.

“We’re changing the game for sure,” Elkouri says. “We’ve got the eye of some big distributors already.”

For instance, Elkouri is offering an inexpensive 30-pack of beer, and he says he’s noticed some larger distributors dropping their prices in response.

Elkouri calls himself a “little fly on the wall” and says he’s not working on becoming a household name just yet.

“We want to build some capital first,” he says. “Once I get (product) in every store, then I’m going to launch a marketing campaign.”

Elkouri says he chose the name Speakeasy Distribution to “pay tribute to all the people who fought to make the legal sale of alcohol possible by ending Prohibition.”

Also, he says, the name is “better than, like, Elkouri Distribution.”

By this time, Elkouri says he figured he’d be in 40 or 50 stores, but demand has been greater than he expected. More stores mean more employees, more work and more capital, though.

“It’s going to cost a little more money than I anticipated.”

Elkouri says he’s had to make some adjustments, but the work doesn’t daunt him.

“The support from the retailers has been awesome. They love a local guy,” he says. “They respect the ambition. It’s been really cool.”

Though Minhas doesn’t have any huge brands, Elkouri says he isn’t concerned.

“You have to build a brand. You know the ones that are big now weren’t always huge.”

He’s selling Minhas’ Mountain Cress beer for $3.99 a 6-pack.

“We’re getting a lot of people hooked on this beer.”

Elkouri’s plans are to go statewide.

“I’m a grinder and a hustler,” he says. “I want to be in every retail outlet store in the state of Kansas.”

He says he knows he has to be careful not to get too excited or move too quickly or he’ll run out of product.

Elkouri says his family has been supportive to a point.

“They want me to do well, but they’re not really going to help me,” he says. Elkouri says his family members say, “You gotta figure it out. It’s the only way you’re ever going to learn.”

He says he looks up to men like Leslie Rudd, Larry Fleming and Barry Schwan who have Wichita’s largest distributorships.

“They’re all great guys.”

Elkouri says he wants to be in their shoes one day.

“I want to be a titan in this industry … and I’m going to make it one way or the other.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers

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