Five Generations of History
O&W Inc. began in the mid 1920’s when William Seagert owned a Tavern in Ann Arbor. Though the Tavern was named the Union Bar during his ownership today it still exists at the same location as the Old Town. During this time of prohibition, Seagert would haul truck loads of Near Beer and Birch Beer (soft drink similar to yet distinct from root beer) from the Stroh Brewery Company in Detroit for his own use and distribute the rest to taverns in the Ann Arbor area and as far west as Chelsea. At the repeal of Prohibition, William Seagert decided to continue running the family tavern in Ann Arbor, and passed the distributorship to his son-in-law, James O’Kane.
With the repeal of Prohibition the Three Tier System was established: Manufacturer, Distributor and Retailer. James J. O’Kane was a pioneer in the Distribution segment working out of a garage on Depot Street and then moving to a warehouse on 4th Avenue in Ann Arbor. His son-in-law, Hugh Wanty, joined the firm in 1948 to start the third generation of the business. Mr. O’Kane and Mr. Wanty moved the growing business and purchased a warehouse on Jackson Road west of Ann Arbor in 1954. In 1956 O’Kane and Wanty incorporated creating the company name O & W, Inc. still in use today.
In the early 1960’s Hugh Wanty began his legacy by looking for ways to make the business more efficient and profitable. He began by acquiring the Goebel Distributor in 1962 then integrated a wine business to make the operation flow on a more seasonal basis. His biggest leap occurred with the purchase of the Miller Brewing Company distributor in 1967. Hugh’s son Jim joined the business full time in 1972 and son Douglas joined the business in 1983 to complete the fourth generation.
With Hugh’s retirement in 1990 his son’s Jim and Doug Wanty assumed the reins and in 1998 purchased the Miller Distributor in western Wayne and Monroe Counties. This purchase tripled their present business in Ann Arbor while expanding the O & W, Inc. territory eastward. In 2003 a new warehouse was built moving O&W from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti Township. Kit Morgeson and Jamie Brooks, Jim’s daughter’s, are presently active in the business and represents the fifth generation of Wanty’s to work at O&W, Inc.