MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For 85 years, one of two families has sold wine and spirits (legally) in downtown Minneapolis. In 1934, Benny Haskell was trying to go legit.
“Prior to that, Benny Haskell was a bootlegger,” laughed Jack Farrell, the owner of Haskell’s since 1970. “And incidentally, the reason we’re in the wine business, is that Benny was a convicted bootlegger, and his wife had to have the license,” Farrell explained.
Under the law at the time, Fritzi Haskell had to be in the store at all times, and she had no interest in selling whiskey and gin. “So he told her to go to France and buy some wine to sell in Minnesota,” said Farrell.
For 85 years, Haskell’s has been known for wine. The original store was on 7th Street in downtown Minneapolis, today it’s at Nicollet Mall and 9th Street.
“There was a time that I thought I knew a lot about wine. And now I don’t think I know very much,” Farrell said.
Much has changed over the years: more competition, stores are open on Sunday now, and the proliferation of wine regions.
“There’s 80 vineyards in Minnesota, believe it or not. Now there are vineyards in China and even in India. Those things didn’t exist even ten years ago,” he said.
Haskell’s has always been a family business. Jack’s four sons are all in the business.
“Pretty much my ill-spent youth was right here in downtown Minneapolis,” laughed Ted Farrell, now the president of Haskell’s. “At a liquor store. Thank goodness it was a good liquor store.”
Over the years, Haskell’s has expanded to 12 stores in Minnesota: Woodbury, Stillwater, Plymouth, Excelsior, and a large store in Maple Grove, plus an online business.
“We just want to keep things moving, keep things going,” said Beau Farrell, the youngest brother and the vice president of marketing and e-commerce.
They’ve often been at the forefront. Fritzi Haskell was the first to bring wine from France to Minnesota in the 1930s. Jack Farrell was the first to bring Robert Mondavi from California, the first to bring Caymus to town, and the first to bring Miguel Torres from Spain.
“It’s well beyond spreadsheets and dollar signs, it’s families coming together,” said Ted Farrell.
Dad built those relationships — and not just in the vineyards. Meeting senators, celebrities and religious leaders like the Pope.
“Henry Kissinger had a charge account with us. As did Frank Sinatra,” said Jack Farrell. In 1990, Governor Rudy Perpich asked Haskell’s to curate the wine list and help with the luncheon they hosted for Mikhail Gorbachev. He picked two Napa Valley Chardonnays and a 1984 Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) Cabernet Sauvignon.
“We wanted the wine to be all American, and it was. Gorbachev loved it,” Farrell said.
The recent introduction of Total Wine into Minnesota has changed the competitive landscape for wine retailers, as has Target and Costco’s growth in wine. Haskell’s is now diversifying: open on Sunday (now that the Minnesota law has changed), they opened a wine bar with sandwiches and cheese and happy hour downtown.
Farrell said he hopes his sons will pass the business to the next generation.
“It makes me very proud. They’ve all found areas they’re good at, and that’s swell. They haven’t kicked me out yet, that’s also a plus,” he laughed.
Jack, Ted and Beau Farrell’s Wine Recommendations from Haskell’s: