There are few athletes who have left a stronger legacy in Louisville, Kentucky than Russ Smith. He helped lead the Louisville Cardinals to two Final Four appearances during his college career, including a National Championship in 2013. Last year, he entered NCAA royalty after getting his number 2 jersey retired in Louisville's KFC Yum! Center.
Now Smith is looking to further cement his status in the city by entering into one of the city's staples, the bourbon industry. Mr. And Mrs. Bourbon is already doing quite well in Kentucky, and in typical Russdiculous fashion, Smith has already secured a premium international distribution deal for his liquor. The brand will be distributed in Italy by Smith's new professional team, Nardo.
EBONY sat down with the hooper turned entrepreneur to talk about his new business venture, Mr. And Mrs. Bourbon, and being Black in the liquor space.
EBONY: What was the inspiration behind the name Mr. And Mrs. and why did you choose bourbon?
Russ Smith: Kentucky has a pastime, and that pastime is bourbon and whiskey. So for me, I always wanted to be in the liquor industry and have a bourbon. The name Mr. The Mrs. comes from my first love, basketball. That's what brought me to Kentucky and made all the people here in the state show me love and support me. So that's all the Mrs. is for me.
As a Black man, what do you think was the hardest part about getting breaking into the spirits business?
Honestly, the hardest part is actually building a sustainable brand. And I think we've done a really good job, to build that part up. Just becoming a household name, especially without having a celebrity as the face of the brand. That was the hardest part as a Black man, breaking into the liquor industry, having a great product, being consistent and creating a brand that's sustainable and that can live for over 100 years when it's all said and done.
Talk about your distribution deal with your new team in Italy.
I can play basketball anywhere in the world, so I want to make sure I can get something really beneficial out of the situation. The distribution deal was really a caveat in the contract. Successful businessmen have a lot of connections, and they do a lot of stuff, so I just asked, 'hey, can you help me do this [distribute]? And I can help you guys with basketball.' The brand recognition is crazy over there, and I believe this is going to help make us an international brand.
What advice would you give other aspiring Black entrepreneurs looking to get into this industry?
My advice would be that if you're actually trying to build out something for the future, then you can't be too attracted to the short term benefit. You have to look at the big picture. And I think the big picture for me has always been being around long after I'm gone. Don't worry about making money right away. Build the brand out. Be intimate with your consumers. Get out there, make yourself vulnerable, and be the people's champion.