From Romania to Greece, Brazil to New York, Nawaf Salameh, founder of Romania-based drinks producer Alexandrion Group, has established business in six countries and counting, with the news of a seventh expected in 2021. But to run a successful business overseas, he believes you must first establish a home. "Everywhere I do business, I buy a house," Nawaf says. "My wife says no more houses."
A seasoned businessman, who's building a new distillery in Putnam County, New York, Nawaf is a Syrian native. "It was my dream to leave Syria behind for the US," he says, but his mother persuaded him to move to Romania to study in 1983, hoping it meant he'd return after university.
Swayed by his father, the owner of a drugstore business, Nawaf enrolled in an eight-year medical degree. Come 1991, he moved to Greece to pursue a career as a plastic surgeon. But another opportunity came knocking, and Nawaf seized a new venture in the food industry distributing chocolate.
Following an invite to a distillery in Crete, Nawaf swiftly invested and this catapulted his enterprise into the drinks industry. Nawaf established Alexandrion Group and later persuaded his partners to move production from Greece to Romania in 2000.
Today, Nawaf is perhaps best known for his work in Romania, having built Alexandrion Group, from a modest distillery in Crete to one of Romania's largest producers of spirits and liqueurs, including Kreskova vodka, Saber Elyzia liqueurs and Brâncoveanu brandy.
While Nawaf says "production is not easy", the group runs two factories in Romania where they are also official distributors for brands including Glenfiddich, Belluga and Russian Standard. In addition, the Alexandrion Group exports its own Romanian-made brands to more than 50 countries and in 2018 acquired Romania's leading wine producer Halewood, propelling the group to being Romania's second-largest wine exporter.
An entrepreneur with a long-term vision, Nawaf also deals with investments in renewable energy, construction materials and real estate through NS & Sons Global Investments.
Nawaf supports the drinks industry through initiatives, including the Romanian online platform The Single Malt Society, designed to help educate single malt enthusiasts. As a champion of single malt whisky, Nawaf was named a Keeper of the Quaich in recognition of his efforts in the category in Romania.
Nawaf's ambition to help others shines through. The Alexandrion Foundation awards grants to creatives to help build their business. In 2021, Nawaf also plans to launch a new initiative for professional bartenders, named the Alexandrion Education Center, which will promote education.
In addition to wine and spirits, Alexandrion Group is also active across the hospitality and tourism sectors. The 177 room New Montana hotel is the group's main property but decerning drinks will perhaps be more interested in their small hotel beside the Rhein & Cie Azuga 1892 cellar, where the Group's sparkling wine production takes place.
Nawaf currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, an hour's drive from the group's new distillery in Carmel, Putnam County. Alexandrion Group has invested $40 million into the build, which will feature a visitors' centre and tasting room.
The 120,000 square-foot distillery is slated for completion in 2022. While initial production will include vodka and gin, Nawaf, a whisky collector, is eager to include American whiskey in their portfolio of spirits.
Nawaf says it's not the profits that drive him but his passion to innovate and building the distillery will enable the group to sell directly to the US.