Editor’s note: The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce is a non-financial partner of Startland News, which serves as the media partner for the Small Business Superstars program.
On the heels of expanding its distribution into several European countries in 2022, J. Rieger & Co. on Wednesday earned the 2023 Weida Award for International Small Business of the Year for the KC Chamber.
Andy Rieger, co-founder and president of J. Rieger, said the distillery — known best for its Kansas City Whiskey — has been intentional throughout the years as it widens its international footprint.
“Growing distribution has always been a fundamental principle of ours,” Rieger said, following the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s annual Small Business Celebration and awards luncheon. “We know that’s the core and the heartbeat of our business. Going to the international markets, which we started in 2022, is something that we had planned on for a really long time.”
J. Rieger might look to add distribution in Asia as early as this year, Rieger added, noting the distillery wants to go where its products are wanted.
“We just want to work in markets with consumers who are looking forward to our products, and distributors who want to be a part of our brand, sell our brand, and take pride in our brand,” Rieger said. “Whether that’s in Europe, whether that’s in Asia, or whether that’s the United States, it doesn’t matter to us. We want to be where we are most welcome.”
International market expansion allows J. Rieger to showcase Kansas City culture to people in other countries, said Nathan Perry, master distiller.
“Getting to be a Kansas City company and also be in those markets is a great thing,” Perry said. “We get to be a showpiece for Kansas City.”
The brand’s international reputation also provides an opportunity to expose people from across the globe to Kansas City, Rieger said, sharing a story of some travelers from The Netherlands who visited Kansas City last August because they wanted to visit the distillery.
“Being able to see people from an international climate come to Kansas City because of our distribution that we have, and because of that international presence — or reach — from a marketing standpoint, is something that you can’t fake,” he said. “It’s what brought those eight people from the European Union to Kansas City, solely based on us really trying to put our best foot forward.”
Closer to home, J. Rieger continues to build up the Electric Park neighborhood surrounding its distillery located in the East Bottoms, Rieger said.
The unique location pulls in both local residents and folks from surrounding communities, according to Rieger, who said that provides an opportunity for people from different cultures to gather in a common space and bond over food and drinks.
“Being able to have both dynamics is something that’s not very common amongst the eastside businesses in Kansas City,” he said.
“When you’re there at nighttime, and you have people from 25 to 75, every single type of culture you could possibly imagine all doing the exact same thing, you know that you’re building something in the right place, under the right type of quality standards, and something that everybody’s proud of — no matter where you’re from, where you were born, or what type of things you value,” Rieger added.