Beer distributor giant Banko turns 80, eyes new, bigger home

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PHOTO/COURTESY OF BANKO BEVERAGE
Undated photo of a Banko Beverage beer delivery truck.
PHOTO/COURTESY OF BANKO BEVERAGE Undated photo of a Banko Beverage beer delivery truck.

When you sit down to have a cold beer while you’re watching the big game, you don’t think about where the beer came from or who brought it to you. You’re just glad that it’s there.

But if you have that beer in your hand, chances are you can thank Banko Beverage of Allentown, which this year is celebrating its 80th anniversary.

“The beer man is always a behind-the-scenes guy; as long as they’re doing their job, no one notices them,” said Jay Wiederhold, president of the Pennsylvania Beer Alliance, the trade association for wholesale beer distributors. “Banko does a magnificent job of getting that job done in its territory.”

And make no mistake, Banko is getting it done.

With about $100 million in annual revenue, the Allentown-based company is the largest wholesale beer distributor in the region, extending north to the Scranton area and east into New Jersey. It represents more than 30 breweries, from Yuengling to Miller, and services more than 1,500 accounts including retail beer distributorships such as Shangy’s or Tanczos and a majority of the bars and restaurants in the region, Wiederhold said.

And Banko is poised for even more growth as it prepares to move into a new headquarters next spring that will nearly double its size.

“It doesn’t matter if you order one case of beer or 100. We deliver to you every week,” said Tom Lynch, Banko vice president and general manager.

Lynch said he’s not complaining that the company flies under the radar of many of its end users.

He said it likes being relatively low-profile, even though many people might be familiar with the company’s longtime slogan, “Bank on Banko.” Lynch said president and CEO Mary Ellen (Banko) Racz, granddaughter of the company’s founder, shuns publicity with what he calls her humble nature.

But just because the company isn’t big on self promotion, it still has a significant impact of giving back to the community it serves – and has been very influential in shaping the beer wholesaling industry in the Lehigh Valley.

It has 131 total employees, 50 of whom are union members, and pays family sustaining wages in positions ranging from administrative and financial to warehouse, delivery and sales.

Its beer business began in 1933 when Frank Banko Sr., who had emigrated from Yugoslavia in 1908, added Schaefer Beer to his soda bottling operation.

When Frank Sr. died in 1937, his son Frank Banko Jr. took and grew it into the business it is today by expanding the offerings and reach of the company – which no longer sells soda.

Dick Yuengling, owner of D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc. in Pottsville, one of the best selling domestic brands in the nation, gives Frank Banko Jr. a great deal of credit with helping the Yuengling brand to expand and grow.

“Everything Mr. Banko touched was a good brand, whether it was Genesee, Miller, Schaefer,” Yuengling said in a recent interview with Lehigh Valley Business. “He did a great job with our brand. …

“He bought 17,000 cases from the guy who was previously our wholesaler and he got it up to almost a million cases a year,” Yuengling continued. “We do very well in the Lehigh Valley; they support us very nicely.”

Banko is a big supporter of the Lehigh Valley as well. A major supporter of Musikfest – selling the beer for the annual August event, the Banko name has grown to become a staple companion of ArtsQuest, the company that runs Musikfest and other arts events in the region throughout the year.

The movie theaters at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks are even named after the beer seller, bearing the name The Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas.

In fact, if you look, you’ll find the Banko name on a couple of hospital wings and high school or college athletic fields around the region. The company also helped charitable fund raisers such as hosting the flower packing for the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the American Cancer Society’s Daffodil Days.

“Quiet philanthropy,” is how Lynch described it.

Now in charge of a great deal of day-to-day operations of the company, Lynch has been with Banko for just over 10 years.

He joined Banko when it took over the Royal Bottling Co. distributorship he was running in Scranton. Racz wanted to hire him on to take over operations of that business unit, now referred to as Banko North.

While Lynch was thinking about the offer, Racz – in what he called “typical Banko fashion” – approached his wife, Barbara, about the job. The two women “decided” that Lynch should take the job, he said. Racz later reached out and hired his son, Patrick, as well.

“There are a lot of families here. That’s something Mary Ellen feels strongly about,” Tom Lynch said. “There are father-son teams, mother-son teams, brothers. Family is a very big thing here.”

That family atmosphere helps with a very low turnover rate, Lynch said, which he said is very good for business and helps the company maintain a strong talent pool.

That talent pool should be growing.

Banko Beverage soon will be leaving the Hanover Avenue headquarters it’s called home since the 1960s for a new larger facility, which should help the company add volume and staff.

The new building will take Banko from 80,000 square feet to 125,000 square feet, plus there are 30 acres for more expansion – should it be needed.

“It’s room to grow, and I like that, because here we’ve been landlocked,” Lynch said.

The new headquarters, for which the company is investing about $7 million, is at 5001 Crackersport Road in South Whitehall Township. Lynch said he expects the move to occur in March.

Stacy Wescoe

Stacy Wescoe

Writer and online editor Stacy Wescoe has her finger on the pulse of the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley and keeps you up-to-date with technology and trends, plus what coworkers and competitors are talking about around the water cooler — and on social media. She can be reached at stacyw@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 104. Follow her on Twitter at @morestacy and on Facebook. Circle Stacy Wescoe on .

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