Building better bars

Milwaukee’s history is intimately tied to brewing and serving beer, and Perlick Corp., which has made the city home for more than 90 years, has used the city’s connection to beer and brewing to its advantage.

Perlick’s products are found in virtually every environment that sells tap beer, ranging from corner bars and chain restaurants to sports stadiums and arenas.

The company’s products range from bar taps and beer dispensing towers, to refrigerators and freezers used in bars, to custom-built lines that transport beer from keg to taps and many related products – including stainless steel under-bar systems that hold bottles and condiments, glass-washing machines, and beer line cleaning equipment.

“The commercial world is 90 percent of our business,” said Chaya Jacobs, marketing manager for residential and commercial products for Perlick. “We not only do bars and restaurants, but we have (our systems) in 65 percent of the stadiums and arenas in the county.”

Perlick’s beer lines, which are capable of moving beer up to 600 feet at a consistent temperature and pressure, have been recently installed in sports arenas such as Cowboys Stadium in Arlington,Texas, the new Meadowlands Stadium (future home of the New York Giants and Jets), the new Yankee Stadium, Citi Field (the new home of the New York Mets) and Dodger Stadium.

“We’re the preferred source for long-distance beer distribution,” Jacobs said.

In Milwaukee, Perlick’s products can be found in many bars and restaurants, as well as the newly renovated suites in the Bradley Center and Miller Park. The Iron Horse Hotel, which opened last fall, also uses a large amount of the company’s products.

“The Iron Horse Hotel is the first total Perlick hotel project,” Jacobs said. “We have our commercial equipment in all three restaurants in the hotel, and on the residential side, we have our beverage center units in 102 of their rooms.”

Perlick entered the high end residential market about six years ago. Today, its under-counter refrigerators and related products range from 15 inches to 72 inches wide and are built to order for each customer’s specific needs.

“Each one can be a different configuration of freezers, refrigerators, beverage centers, wine refrigerators and beer distributors,” Jacobs said.

Perlick also makes custom fittings, couplings, filters, faucets and related products for the commercial brewing industry. Although its business with brewers has shrunk because of consolidation in the industry, Perlick continues to train a large number of brewery employees every year.

Earlier this year, the company opened its Robert D. Perlick Draft Beer Training Center, where it trains independent installers of draft beer equipment. Perlick, through a partnership with MillerCoors LLC, also trains about 700 of the company’s wholesalers and distributors.

“We train them how to install beer systems,” Jacobs said. “Half of the classes are held here and the other half are in Golden, Colorado.”

Perlick is owned by the Perlick family. The company was founded in Milwaukee in 1917 by Robert Karl Perlick. The company is run by Larry Molinari and Steve Bergum, co-CEOs who are sons-in-law of Robert D. Perlick.

The company refers to itself as a “true manufacturer” because it performs almost all functions related to the production of its products inside its 300,000-square-foot facility. The only functions that Perlick relies on a supplier for are related to casting and electronic controls. Its employees handle functions ranging from laser cutting and bending sheet metal to forming tubes into radiators to chrome and nickel plating.

“Everything is truly made by hand here,” Jacobs said. “The (Perlick) family’s philosophy has always been if we have someone here who can do it, we’re going to keep them. It keeps (processes) in house and it keeps someone employed in a family supporting job.”

Today, Perlick has about 200 employees. Earlier this year, it made several rounds of temporary layoffs, but none of its workers have been permanently let go.

“Our sales are down. We took a hit with the (decline in) the chain restaurant business,” Jacobs said. “We’ve definitely been affected, but we’ve been able to compensate for that with big projects like casinos, hotels and sports arenas.”

The company is now working to introduce its products to new markets. On the commercial side, Perlick is finding some success with casual dining chains such as Panera Bread and grocery stores such as Whole Foods that are installing in-store beer and wine dispensing systems.

It has also found new opportunities to sell to hotel chains and to scientific labs that need refrigeration, Jacobs said.

Some of the company’s best prospects for new project remain in the sports world. Although fewer new stadiums are proposed now, private suites and entertainment areas in existing stadiums are increasingly being redeveloped.

“The replacement business is what we’re finding with stadiums a lot,” Jacobs said.


Perlick Corp.

8300 W. Good Hope Road, Milwaukee
Industry: Beer distribution systems, under-counter refrigerators and back-bar systems
Employees: 200

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