As a 6th generation Minnesotan, son of a veteran, and beneficiary of three family legacies, I have a lot of stories to tell. I hope to share many of them with you throughout this campaign. To start, I’ll tell you a little bit about myself.
My birth father, Artie Pfefer, was born and raised in St. Paul, and killed in the Vietnam War in 1969. I was six months old. Fate dealt me a lucky hand in 1971 when my mother married Eddie Phillips. Eddie adopted me, nurtured me, and made me the most fortunate little boy in the world.
I was fortunate not just because Eddie became my father, but because of the family that surrounded me. From Jay Phillips whose name adorns The Phillips-Wangensteen Building at the University of Minnesota, the Phillips Eye Institute, and The Jay Phillips Center for Multifaith Learning, to Abigail Van Buren, aka Dear Abby, aka Grandma, who shared advice with millions of people around the world during her career and was ahead of her time as an advocate for human rights. I’m truly blessed.
We moved to Edina in the early 1970s where I attended Highlands Elementary School and spent summer afternoons playing baseball and wading in Nine Mile Creek. In the winters I played hockey at Walnut Ridge Park down the street from our house. Though I’ve played hockey most of my life, my career peaked as a goalie for the 1979-80 Edina Squirt A team. It was at a tournament in Alexandria in February 1980 that my teammates and I gathered around a television to watch our US Olympic Hockey team defeat the Russians. That moment is seared into my mind as the moment I learned that anything was possible, no matter how challenging the circumstances or how remote the odds.
By middle school my parents had moved me to The Blake School in Hopkins where I heard former Republican Congressman John Anderson address our assembly during his independent run for president in 1980. His speech resonates with me to this day, including the importance of independence in government and disdain for the role of special interest money in campaigns.
For my first jobs, I bussed tables at Runyon’s, started a mobile car wash service, interned at an architectural firm, worked in the warehouse and print shop at my family’s distribution business and as an apprentice merchandiser learning the basics of retail enterprise.
I graduated from Brown University in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies and joined a start-up business immediately after college. A few years later I joined our family business where I trained in warehouse operations, production, and sales. I drove throughout the state establishing relationships with independent store owners and selling and merchandising our products. After I proved that I could hold my own, I took over our Canadian and overseas sales. On one such visit to Poland, we discovered and soon acquired rights to Belvedere and Chopin Vodka, which we introduced in the United States in 1994.
In the early 2000s, I became CEO of Phillips Distilling Company. Of the many brands we created during that time, Prairie Vodka is the one of which I’m most proud. It was a collaboration between a co-op of farmers, three family-owned organic corn growers and us. Together we created a product that is made in Minnesota from seed to glass and is now the best-selling certified organic spirit in the world.
After the untimely passing of my father in 2011, I left Phillips Distilling to join a small gelato business in which he had invested. Along with my partners, Josh Hochschuler and Steve Gill, we built Talenti Gelato into the largest gelato brand and third best-selling premium ice cream brand in the country behind Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs.
After that adventure, I partnered with a fellow entrepreneur to open Penny’s Coffee in downtown Minneapolis. It’s a small business that we hope to grow into a larger one by putting employees first and making livable wages a founding principle.
I have two remarkable daughters: Daniela, 19, and Pia, 17. This summer, Daniela will be working at Penny’s and learning the basics of enterprise. Pia will be focusing on PAB’s Packs, the non-profit organization she co-established with her friend, Abbie Nelson, that provides comfort and encouragement to chronically ill teens by donating custom backpacks filled with cozy items to make their hospital stays easier.
I take philanthropy and my responsibility to our community, particularly children, very seriously. I’ve served a number of non-profit organizations over the years and am most proud of bringing We Day to Minnesota–the global youth-empowerment initiative that now engages over 150,000 students in over 550 schools across the state. I’ve also chaired the boards of our family charitable foundations, the Leadership Council of Worldwide Orphans, and Allina Health. As a former board member of my synagogue, Temple Israel, and regent at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, MN, I’m proud of my Jewish heritage and celebrate the faith and beliefs of all people.
While luck brought me into a family that afforded great opportunity, resources and even celebrity, it also demanded accountability, responsibility, hard work, civic engagement, and philanthropy. I am very grateful for these gifts. To have been raised in a country, a state, a community, a family, and a time of such opportunity is a blessing not afforded to many. That’s why I measure success not by what I have collected or achieved, rather by how many people I’ve been able to help do so for themselves.
As I’m fond of saying, I was born on first base, reached second on a sacrifice bunt, then tagged-up and advanced to third by running as hard as I could. Reaching home base means I will have succeeded in helping to redesign systems and promote policies that afford similar opportunity to the children and families following in our footsteps.
I am a fiscally responsible, socially inclusive and yes, fortunate, man who wishes to represent Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District and bring a strong, independent voice of reason, new ideas, and principled leadership to an institution that clearly needs it.
The job of representation begins with listening. So I invite you to share your ideas, concerns, dreams, and challenges with me over the coming months. I promise to listen and I promise to show up. That’s my responsibility.
(That’s my signature, by the way.)