When you walk into the Flavorman headquarters at 809 S. Eighth St., a sweet, syrupy aroma hits you. If you walk into the part-kitchen/part-chemistry lab, you’ll understand why. Some shelves are filled with glass containers of juice, liquor and energy-drink samples. Others hold ingredients like sweeteners, acids and vitamins that have been used to create drink flavors for clients like Chiquita and Jones Soda Co.
Dave Dafoe started Flavorman in a condo on Westport Road in 1992. Before launching the company, the New York native developed flavors for Brown-Forman, most famously for Jack Daniel’s Country Cocktails. The idea for Flavorman came when Dafoe saw opportunities to contract with juice and soft-drink companies.
The company currently works with clients from every state and 20 countries, about 200 in all. Local clients include “four of the world’s largest distilled-spirits companies,” Dafoe says, but he can’t name them because of non-disclosure agreements. Another local client is Thorntons. The team at Flavorman developed their eRev energy drinks.
Flavorman’s sister business (located next door) is the Distilled Spirits Epicenter — a small, functional distillery that operates out of a refurbished garage. It’s basically a college for liquor-making. Colin Blake, the “Headmaster of Liquorial Studies” (his business card says that) organizes classes that range from basic tastings to how to open your own distillery.
How did the Distilled Spirits Epicenter get started?
“We started getting a lot of alcohol and liqueur projects, and we started getting a lot of questions on distilling and how it all works,” Blake says. “We realized that there’s no place in the U.S. where you can go and learn about opening a distillery. It’s people Googling their way into business, making a lot of mistakes. Then, as we were talking to more and more people in the area, we realized that everything you need to open a distillery and run it and operate it is located within 50 miles of Louisville. That’s why it got named the Distilled Spirits Epicenter, because it’s literally in the center of the distilling world.”
What was it like starting up?
“One of the things we did before we even did anything next door was invite the mayor (Greg Fischer) here, and we told him exactly what we were doing,” Dafoe says. “And he looked at us like maybe we had 10 heads. We explained that it should be in Kentucky because this is where the industry is. Then once he knew what we were doing, the city was very helpful. The city and Greater Louisville Inc. walked us through issues with permits, zoning and inspections. They made introductions to state officials for state matters. You don’t get this kind of thing in a big city. Ever.”
What are you seeing in the general state of business in Louisville?
“It feels very businesslike now,” Dafoe says. “I think when we talk to Fischer or Ted Smith, who’s in charge of economic development for Louisville, it feels like we’re talking to each other and not talking through a tube at some bureaucrat. They get it. If we call down and say, ‘Have you thought about this; have you done this?’ we’ll get a response.”
“Louisville is really gung-ho on growth now,” Blake says, “and one thing I’ve just been beside myself about is how they’re really good at reaching out to everyone, that they want business here to be part of the growth. They have a really good over-encompassing view of things — more than get people in, get ’em a building, create more jobs, go to the next thing.”
Photo Courtesy Mickie Winters