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Freeman Magazine - Spring 2008

IN THE NEWS

Humble Beginnings: Jerry Greenbaum

First Job: Clerk, Green's Beverages

Current Job: Chairman, CentraArchy

When Jerry Greenbaum (BBA ’62) got out of college, he got a job at a liquor store.

To be fair, it wasn’t just any liquor store. It was Green’s Beverages, the Atlanta beverage-alcohol retail store that his father, Leonard Greenbaum, had founded in 1937, but Greenbaum still considered the job more of a temporary position than the start of a long career.

“There wasn’t a lot of opportunity there,” Greenbaum says. “When I joined my father, we were doing about $750,000 in annual sales. It was probably enough for two families to live modestly on, but it certainly was not great. I thought I would end up working for a big company."

Greenbaum had graduated from Tulane in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in business, and in 1965, after completing a two-year stint in the Army, he returned to Atlanta and took a job at Green’s. “I started literally in the back of the warehouse and the front of the store doing everything,” he says. “I would unload trucks, put merchandise up on shelves and check the register in the morning. I was a flunkie.”

If Leonard Greenbaum had had his wish, Jerry never would have joined the business in the first place. “He wanted me to play golf,” Greenbaum says. “I’ve been a competitive golfer all my life. My father was a frustrated golfer and he thought anything I did other than playing golf was wasting my time.”

Greenbaum played in the 1964 U.S. Open and considered turning pro, but with a young family to support he decided that golf was a better hobby than career. “Arnold Palmer was the leading money winner in 1962 and he only made $60,000,” Greenbaum says. “The pros didn’t make enough money in those days. They didn’t make any more than I was making.”

The turning point in Greenbaum’s career came not long after he joined his father in the business. For years Green’s had enjoyed a substantial volume of business from residents of neighboring DeKalb County, where the sale of alcohol was still prohibited by law. As Greenbaum began to consider his long-term future with the store, he realized that the legalization of alcohol sales in DeKalb would deal Green’s a potentially devastating blow.

Against the wishes of his father, who was happy operating one store, Greenbaum devoted his energies to expanding the business to protect sales. He eventually opened an additional store in Atlanta and three in South Carolina. Today, each of those stores averages $12 million in annual sales, more than 25 times the industry average.

Restricted by law from opening additional liquor stores in the area, Greenbaum next focused his attention on real estate. In the mid-1950s, Leonard Greenbaum had begun building multi-tenant warehouses in Atlanta, which was then just becoming the major distribution center for the Southeast. Spurred on by the restrictions to the liquor business, the Greenbaums eventually built more than 35 warehouses in the Atlanta area.

In 1983, Greenbaum added restaurateur to his resume with the opening of California Dreaming, a contemporary American-style restaurant located in a restored train depot in Columbia, S.C. Over the next two decades, Greenbaum’s company, CentraArchy Restaurant Management, would open eight additional California Dreaming locations in three states as well as 10 other restaurants, with styles ranging from the Mexican cuisine of Myrtle Beach’s Fiesta Del Burro Loco to the hip contemporary fare of Atlanta’s Tavern at Phipps to the high-end steakhouse chain New York Prime.

Together, the retail liquor stores, warehouse properties and restaurants generate nearly $160 million in annual sales. “We’re not a big company, but it’s a nice business,” says Greenbaum, who in the mid-1990s turned over the day-to-day operations to his children. “I won’t say I’m retired, but I’m a chairman of the board who plays a lot of golf.”

While Greenbaum says his business training was important to his success, he says he owes an even greater debt to his experiences outside the classroom. “Tulane gave me an appreciation for the better things in life, such as dining and travel and the style of living that exists in New Orleans,” he says. “I think Tulane gives students an appreciation for life that they’re not going to get at many other schools.”

Last Updated 11/19/08