Over the past 67 years, Lambrecht’s at 2926 Niles Ave in St. Joseph has developed a strong reputation as the best place to find the widest selection of quality wine and spirits in the region. The Lambrecht family started that work in 1956. A generation-and-a-half later, they have decided to pass the torch to new owners (see our Moody story with the new owner here).
Richard Lambrecht first opened the business as a grocery store in rented property just a stone’s throw from where the current Lambrecht sits. After four years of success, Lambrecht bought a piece of land and built the foundation of what the store is today. In 1978, they expanded and part of the building is now occupied by Jet’s Pizza.
When Lambrecht’s first opened, Dan Lambrecht, Richard’s son and the current president of Lambrecht’s Liquors, Inc. says there was hardly anything else around — as far as storefronts were concerned.
“There was a drive-in theater where Verizon is now and the block of buildings south of us was there and that was it. There were grape vineyards behind us, running from the back of the store all the way over to Cleveland Avenue. Where the LECO Tech Center is, that used to be a sawmill. Then, across the street, I think it was a peach orchard.”
Dan says he was practically raised in the store and has fond memories of riding in the company van, occasionally listening to his father vent about the business. When he thought about potential career options, there were no plans for Dan to go into the family business.
Dan graduated from Notre Dame with a law degree. The plan was not necessarily to become an attorney, it was supposed to be an opening to his getting an MBA and a good job. After Notre Dame Dan worked as an attorney for 12 years until he “got burned out” and decided to return home to the business.
“Well, it’s just a different life, I don’t know if it’s necessarily better, I just knew what I was getting into. I never went to law school to become a lawyer, I just went for the degree. My purpose was to get a law degree and then go to work for a Fortune 500 company and have them pay for my MBA. But when I was in law school, I fell in love with trial advocacy and decided I wanted to become a trial attorney, and that’s what I did.”
After returning to the family store, Dan made arrangements with his father to buy the company. Unexpectedly, Richard Lambrecht died in 2003. Three years later, Dan closed on the purchase of the business from his mother. He has operated the establishment ever since.
The beginning of the end of Lambrecht’s began when COVID hit.
Lambrecht says it was not a difficult decision to sell the business. COVID made it extremely hard to find employees. During the pandemic, his three elderly staff members opted not to risk working at the store and Dan ended up working 85 hour weeks.
“That doesn’t leave a lot of time to do other stuff.”
As for the industry itself, Lambrecht says it has changed over the years. He says it feels more supplier-driven than customer driven. The supply chain is more streamlined and a lot of the smaller wholesale shops have been bought out by the “big guys.” Lambrecht says he hasn’t seen some spirits sales representatives for years because they’re solely focused on supplying based on volume.
In thinking about the most memorable moments, Dan thinks about helping people get stocked up for wedding celebrations. There’s also good memories about when the Senior PGA comes to town. Lambrecht still remembers getting excited to meet PGA Tour Champion Rocco Mediate.
Lambrecht’s Liquors is set to change hands within the next couple of weeks. He says the Lakeside Liquors ownership and management have experience in the liquor store business and they’ve already proven themselves with their other operations in the area. As part of the agreement, Dan will stay on for a brief period to serve as consultant. After that, Dan says he’s going to relax.
“I’m not going to do anything for about six months. I’ve got a lot of projects, I’ll do some traveling, and eventually some part time work. I might wade back into the legal world. I’d like to do some research and writing.”
Asked what he will miss most about the establishment that has played such a significant role in his entire life, Dan quickly answered with a chuckle that he will mostly miss the people.
“I like most of my customers. I won’t miss all my customers, but I’ll miss most of them.”
Dan says he and his family are incredibly grateful and appreciate the community support they’ve received over run. He says the business has been good for his family and he feels his family has given a lot back to the community.
Now, Dan says, is the right time to step away.
“You know, my dad always said, ‘When I see the third generation coming in, that’s when I’m going to retire.'”