Empire Merchants North was formed in February 2007 from the merging of Colony Liquor & Wine Distributors and Service-Universal Distributors, two companies whose roots reach back to the end of Prohibition. The result is Upstate New York’s premier wine and spirits distributor, proudly building on decades of experience.
With state-of-the-art facilities and a dedicated team of over 700 knowledgeable and well-equipped employees, Empire Merchants North has become synonymous with both service and quality, earning the loyalty of more than 9,000 restaurants, bars, hotels, nightclubs and retail outlets.
Eric is a graduate of the University of Michigan, with a degree in Business Economics and was formerly the Executive Vice President of Breakthru Beverage of Florida. His responsibilities included overseeing all sales, sales execution, finance, pricing & programming, supplier relations, retail & on-premise chains, operations, human resources, events and data analytics. During his 16-year tenure at Premier Beverage, now Breakthru Beverage, Eric held multiple leadership positions, including General Sales Manager for South Florida, and Vice President of Sales.
Eric’s career in the wine and spirits industry spans many years including prior management roles both domestically and internationally. At the E & J Gallo Winery, he was a Regional Manager in Texas, managing all sales and chain activity for Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. From there, he moved to Tokyo, Japan to be the Sales Director for E&J Gallo Japan, where he managed over a million cases of Gallo in both the chains and the local independents. In Japan, Eric managed a Japanese sales team of over 100 sales reps and managers, as well as over 40 wholesalers nationwide. His industry experience also includes his work as General Manager of Johnson Brothers Liquor Company Tampa, Florida managing over 2 million cases of Gallo, as well as his work as Vice President of Republic Beverage‘s Texas Wine Company, where he started an organization that included the first statewide chain team, statewide pricing and programming and managing all the Republic/Block/Schepps Suppliers on a statewide basis.
Keith Abatto is the Chief Operating Officer/Chief Financial Officer at Empire Merchants North, overseeing all Operations, Finance, Compliance, Information Technology, Purchasing and Customer Service functions. Keith brings nearly 30 years of experience from his time in Public Accounting, and Private Industry as a Controller, Vice President of Operations and Chief Financial Officer for a variety of notable companies. Keith started at a Public Accounting firm in Albany before moving to KPMG, a leader in the Accounting field. He then spent 15 years rising to Vice President of Operations at Environment One Corporation in Niskayuna, a subsidiary of Precision Castparts Corporation, a Fortune 100 Company acquired by Berkshire Hathaway. Keith moved from there to Horizon Bradco in Schenectady, a Private Equity backed Company owned by Hamilton Robinson Capital Partners. After four years there, he took on the role of Chief Financial Officer for Death Wish Coffee Company in Ballston Spa, New York. Keith is a graduate of Siena College, holding a BA in Accounting, a Certified Public Accountant and is a member of the NYSSCPA’s and AICPA.
Mike Stelluti started his career in the wine and spirits industry in 1982 as a Sales Representative for Colony Liquor Distributors. During his 14-year career there, Mike held various positions including Sales Representative, Field Sales Manager and Division Manager for the Westchester and New York City markets.
After Colony’s 1996 merger with Peerless Importers, he became the Division Manager for the newly formed Regent (Diageo) Division overseeing the lower Hudson Valley. In 1998 Mike took on the role of Fine Wine Director, managing and overseeing the Fine Wine portfolio for Colony Liquor Distributors. Following the merger of Colony and Charmer Industries in 2006, Mike was named Director of Wine overseeing all wine suppliers as well as directing the Fine Wine Team.
In 2012, he became the Director of Business Management overseeing the business development of all Empire Merchants North wine and spirit suppliers. In 2018, Mike was appointed as Vice President of Wine and Craft Spirit sales, responsible for overseeing the management and development of Empire Merchants North’s Wine and Craft Spirit portfolio. In June of 2020 Mike was promoted to Vice President of Supplier Management where he currently oversees all supplier logistics and relationships as well as analytics, marketing, and social media.
Mike obtained a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York.
Michael Lynch is the Vice President of Sales Execution of Empire Merchants North. Mike is a 16-year industry veteran, starting his career as a Schieffelin & Somerset account development specialist for Service-Universal Distributors. He spent nine years at Service-Universal in several roles, most recently as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the East. Mike became the General Sales Manager for the Majestic Division in September of 2007, when Service-Universal and Colony Liquor & Wines consolidated. In 2009, Mike became the General Manager of the Alliance suppliers, and subsequently led the development of the dedicated Alliance Division for Brown-Forman, Bacardi and Rémy Contreau. Mike graduated from Empire State College, State University of New York, with a Bachelor of Science degree in business management.
Carol G. Brown is the Executive Director of Human Resources at Empire Merchants North. Carol joined Service-Universal Distributors in January 1983 as the Office Manager, overseeing the Syracuse operations. In 1998, she was promoted to the role of Director of Human Resources for Service-Universal Distributors. With the merger of Colony Liquor & Wine Distributors and Service-Universal Distributors, Carol became the Executive Director of Human Resources, responsible for the design and implementation of all Human Resources strategies, policies and processes throughout the company. In addition to her involvement with Human Resources, Carol also oversees all safety-related functions for Empire Merchants North. Carol received a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration from Lycoming College.
Joe Benny began his career working his way through college and graduate school in the restaurant business, where he held various management roles. He joined Wine Merchants in 2004 as an on-premise Sales Representative. Joe was promoted to on-premise Brand Manager for the E&J Gallo portfolio at Colony Liquor & Wine. In June 2008, Joe joined the E&J Gallo Winery as State Manager, on premise, for Massachusetts. In October 2011, he was promoted again to State Manager, retail, for New Jersey, and soon after to Area Manager for the Fine Wine portfolio. In July 2013, he was made the Director of Fine Wine Retail for the Midwest Region and relocated to Chicago. In January 2014, he returned to Upstate New York to become the General Manager of the Royal Division at Empire Merchants North. He is a graduate of Siena College and holds an MBA from the State University of New York at Albany.
Timothy J. Cullen, general manager of the Imperial Division at Empire Merchants North, grew up and went to school in Oswego, New York, where his family owned and operated a wine and spirit retail store for over forty years. In 1986, after years assisting with the family business, he began his career as a merchandiser with Peerless Imports. Later, Tim moved to Colony Liquor & Wine Distributors and served as a sales representative in a number of different divisions. While a sales representative, he won multiple CC Society Man of the Year awards. He then became Diageo’s director of sales for Western New York. In 2003, Tim moved to Eber Bros. Wine and Liquor Corporation to take on the role of general manager. In 2007, he became general sales manager with Service-Universal Distributors and remained in that position through the merger of Colony Liquor & Wine Distributors with The Charmer Sunbelt Group.
Jeff Brooks is the General Manager of the Phoenix Division at Empire Merchants North. He was born and raised in Western New York. Jeff spent eighteen years in the service industry prior to joining Service Universal. Jeff joined Service Universal sixteen years ago and has been with Empire Merchants North since the merger. Jeff started as an Account Development Specialist for four years and was then promoted to the ADS’ manager for four years. In 2012 he was appointed to the Director of Sales for the West for the Phoenix Division. He was named the General Manager of the Phoenix Division in 2020.
Keith Poole is the General Manager of the Freedom Division at Empire Merchants North. Keith is a 17-year industry veteran, having started his career as a supplier with Seagram Americas, where he held Operations Manager and State Manager positions in Upstate New York and New Jersey. After Seagram Americas was sold, he worked for Allied Domecq, where he was the New Jersey Business Manager. In 2004, Keith transitioned to the wholesale tier as the Allied Domecq business manager for Service-Universal Distributors. When Service-Universal merged with Colony Liquor & Wine, Keith assumed the role of director of trade development for the Diageo portfolio. In 2011, Keith was promoted to the General Manager of the Regent Division at Empire Merchants North. Keith is a graduate of the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, with a Bachelor of Science degree in business marketing.