If you’re from the Lehigh Valley, you probably already know about Mishka Premium Vodka. The first Black-operated spirits company in the United States, Mishka was started in Allentown by owner Russell Fletcher, and since then Mishka vodkas have been sold in several states and won awards from prestigious competitions around the nation.
But an even wider audience is now becoming familiar with Mishka Premium Vodka after it was recently highlighted by a particularly well-known fan: the Philadelphia 76ers.
The NBA team recently highlighted the company at one of its games and across its social media platforms as part of its Spirit of Small Business program, which seeks to celebrate small businesses and entrepreneurs throughout Philadelphia and its surrounding communities.
“My family and I call Lehigh Valley home, and we represent the Valley as we expand our business nationally while introducing the region to our relationships that exist outside of the Lehigh Valley,” Fletcher said.
LegalZoom partnered with 76ers for the Spirit of Small Business program, providing complimentary products and legal services to Mishka Premium Vodka, as well as the opportunity to promote the company across the 76ers’ social and digital platforms, reaching more than 13 million people.
Additionally, Fletcher was invited to announce Philadelphia’s game against the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 22, 2022, where he was able to promote Mishka Premium Vodka to the 20,184 fans at the Wells Fargo Center. The 76ers went on to win that game by a score of 115-106.
“We are fortunate that LegalZoom shares our passion for supporting small business owners and that they recognize how our platforms can help uplift our communities,” said Katie O’Reilly, 76ers’ Chief Revenue Officer. “The impact of the 76ers’ Spirit of Small Business program has already been felt and loved by many local businesses. Our partnership with LegalZoom will allow us to grow the program, amplify the spotlight on these businesses, as well as enhance our offering to them with its unique services.”
Fletcher began This Life Forever Inc., the company that manufacturers Mishka Premium Vodka, in 2007. Serving as master distiller for the company as well as owner and founder, Fletcher discovered a friendly environment for entrepreneurs in the Lehigh Valley, receiving assistance from the Allentown Economic Development Corporation, among other places.
The company is growing, having announced plans this year to move into an Allentown building formerly owned by A-Treat Bottling Co. This Life Forever will use 6,000 square feet of the building, nearly three times the space at its previous location, and is already planning a second expansion phase in the future.
The move, expected to be complete by the spring of 2023, will expand the company’s manufacturing capacity, create up to 25 more full-time jobs, and allow Mishka to introduce new products, including the possible opening of a whiskey program.
“Business ownership has afforded me the ability to employ and also be able to put food on other people’s plates,” Fletcher said in a video that was distributed online by the Philadelphia 76ers and LegalZoom as part of the Spirit of Small Business program.
Fletcher’s spirits first started generating widespread attention when he entered his vodka into the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2015. Within a few years, his honey vodka had won several gold and silver medals and developed a stellar reputation.
“Our best-selling product happens to be the honey vodka that you see here in the background,” Fletcher said in the 76ers video. “Everybody loves the honey vodka, because it gives you that sweet, subtle taste of honey, but it also gives you that nice heat that warms the body.”
A Brooklyn native who moved to the Allentown area about 15 years ago, Fletcher is a long-time entrepreneur who launched his first business at age 17.
He spent the late 1990s and early 2000s running an online multimedia company in New York City that worked in promotions with such clients as the Wu-Tang Clan, Method Man, and Jay-Z. The company name This Life Forever comes from the title of a Jay-Z song.
Since the program’s launch in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the 76ers’ Spirit of Small Business initiative has highlighted more than 77 small businesses, including 30 Black-owned businesses and 40 female-owned businesses.
“We really admire and respect the wonderful work the 76ers have done through the Spirit of Small Business program and are excited to be a part of it,” said TJ Cohen, Head of Brand Partnerships at LegalZoom. “Working with an organization, from the top down, that is dedicated to supporting their local community and diverse small businesses in the Greater Philadelphia area is inspiring.”
(Photo courtesy Mishka Premium Vodka)