My grandfather used to tell me that he was very tall. Moses was the eldest son of Nicolas, and grandson of Moses. He was said to be as tall as the living room door. He was a people’s person who loved inviting his neighbors over, having huge gatherings despite the fact that his house was small.
Larger gatherings used to take place when Moses was distilling Arak in his backyard, and also when he was about to celebrate a day called “Nahar Al Baraka” which translates to ‘the day of the blessing’, which was started by his grandfather. On that day, he used to open the wine barrel left to settle from the previous year, and have a huge feast. People rarely remembered the food, but always remembered the wine and the arak that they had. Eventually, his neighbors started asking if they could have some, and being the man that he was, his neighbors were given generous amounts of wine and arak.
Word started getting around that Moses Riachi made good wine and doesn’t mind sharing the blessing, so the whole “Dayaa”, or village, started coming to him for some wine and arak.
At one point, he bartered a couple of his goats for some grapes in order to make more wine and Arak. The year after, he no longer could support his generous habit of sharing his wine because he lost all his goats and only his cow remained, and he was not to lose it, for his family would starve. He decided to start selling his wine and arak. He thought that people won’t go for it because a lot of the families distilled their own arak and got their wine from the monastery. To his surprise, the inventory was sold faster than bread even in times of war.
Like any man with a bit of common sense, he saved some silver and gold to buy more grapes and a mule. In a few years, he was delivering wine to seven neighboring villages on the back of his mule. He used something called “Daref”, which was basically large sacks of wine or arak, made from goat skin. From the Daref, he used to fill a large container that villagers used to have, which was called the “Alafiye”.
By 1839, Moses’s operations became legitimate, for he built a “khommara” which means factory of alcoholic beverages, and had his sons help him in manufacturing and distributing. One of his sons in particular took a liking to the business, and decided to adopt the craft and pass it on to his children. That son was Nicolas Moses Riachi.
Nicolas kept true to his father’s passion, and expanded the business. By the time he retired, he and his family were covering more than thirty villages. Nicolas had a large family, but few were passionate about the business, so most of his sons and daughters inherited lands, gold, and silver.
However, there was an exception; Hanna Nicolas Moses Riachi didn’t care much for that type of inheritance. To him land, silver, and gold were trivial. Hanna wanted the khommara. At first he was financially poorer than his siblings, but he pulled through, because he had passion for the craft.
By the early 1930’s Hanna added a new item to the product offering, which was liqueur. It wasn’t as famous as the arak or the wine, but it was met with success.
My grandfather, Hanna’s son, told me: “Son, never succumb to vain whims, keep true to your beliefs, and always follow your gut. This is what made Moses, Nicolas, and my father, Hanna, succeed in life. If our craft is not your passion, then I will personally help you pursue your calling, no matter what it is”.
At first I was surprised as to why he wouldn’t want me to work with the family, but I misunderstood him. It became clearer after my father told me his father’s story. Hanna had six children, four girls and two sons, Adma, Alice, Laure, Yvonne, Mansour, and Georges. All were involved in the business in their youth. But Adma got married and immigrated to the US, Alice became a nun, Yvonne married a tailor and helped him with his business, and Laure married a business man that worked in the transportation business.
Only Mansour and Georges remained in the khommara, but Mansour was more interested in construction and wanted to go work in Kuwait in the 50’s, when the country was booming. So Georges offered to buy his brother out, and Mansour gladly accepted. To this day, Mansour is still glad about the past, because he felt as if he was stuck and Georges liberated him. Mansour and Georges remained best friends throughout all those years until the passing of Georges in 2013. After, I was told that story, I then knew what my grandfather really meant.
After Georges Hanna Nicolas Moses Riachi became the sole owner of the khommara, he expanded the product line even further and started manufacturing syrups and was covering most of Mount Lebanon. The business was getting bigger, and again the khommara was expanded.
When George’s sons grew up, they too also started working in the family business. They both had the passion for crafting beverages. However, dark times were ahead of the two brothers. The 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War damaged their business severely, almost pushing the brothers to bankruptcy. Thankfully, they pulled through, and when the war ended, they quickly opened new markets, especially in export. Despite the success, they didn’t know that the business decision they took, which was shifting from selling their own brands to filling private labels, would cost them their most valuable asset which was the “Riachi” brand.
Their business grew larger than their ancestors could ever imagine, and proof was that the most famous Lebanese businesses in the beverage industry had their humble beginnings through our family’s factory. But this did more harm than help the family. So when I became mature enough to know what my passion was, I decided to honor my ancestors by reviving the Riachi brand.
Georges H. Riachi 6th Generation Winemaker
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