When Charles Ferri graduated from the UB School of Management in 1996, he followed in his sister’s footsteps and became a broker in New York City. However, after several years, he decided the career wasn’t for him, despite his success.
“The financial world can really suck you in,” Ferri says. “I got disillusioned. It was all about the money, and I pushed my other ambitions aside.”
Ferri may not have enjoyed the daily grind, but he definitely enjoyed the Big Apple’s nightlife. And this led to what he calls the “crossroad” of his life.
“While I was still in finance, I had the opportunity to buy a lounge,” he says. “I thought it was time to take a chance, and it would give me a chance to be creative.
“I took a huge leap and went for it. People thought I was absolutely nuts.”
The success of Ferri’s Star Lounge in the famed Chelsea Hotel led him to open another club, the Star Room, in the Hamptons. And, finally, to his latest venture, Star Vodka.
Ferri was inspired to go into the spirits business because he wanted to have a special gift for his private clientele. A vodka connoisseur, he was disappointed that he could not find an American-made ultra-premium vodka. So, he decided to create his own.
“Once you take a huge chance, you become fearless,” Ferri says. “It gives you the confidence to say, ‘I can do this.’”
Ferri spent a year researching and learning about the industry, meeting with distillers and selecting the best grain for his creation.
The final product is entirely American-made, using nongenetically-modified corn from the Midwest and Cascade Mountain water from Oregon. It is filtered five times through crushed lava rock, resulting in what Ferri claims is “the smoothest vodka on the market.”
Star Vodka also is giving Ferri the chance to use his School of Management marketing concentration, which he jokingly says he “abandoned” when he went into finance, much to his regret.
“I loved studying marketing at UB,” he says, “although I was not the best student, I must admit.”
Ferri is promoting Star Vodka through special events and exclusive placements at restaurants and specialty stores. Sales grew by 300% last year.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have some high-profile friends. Ferri recently celebrated his birthday at a party hosted by Susan Sarandon.
“I met Susan at a speaking engagement,” Ferri says. “She’s a wonderful person. A friend of mine was opening a new venue in New York, so I got the idea to do a charity event there along with my birthday celebration. I asked Susan if she would host it, with the proceeds going to whatever charity she chose.”
Sarandon agreed, and the event raised $4,000 for Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. Ferri not only delivered the check, but also spent the day volunteering at the kitchen.
His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs? “Follow what you truly love.” Ferri did, and says he is now “living the dream.”
Written by Cathy Wilde