Born and raised in Wichita, Kansas, Rudd officially began his career following his student years at Wichita State University. Unofficially, he began it at the age of eight when his parents started what is now the Standard Beverage Corporation (SBC). Spending his spare time at the company, Rudd learned about entrepreneurship when other children were riding bikes. He eventually became owner and CEO of SBC, molding the business into the largest wine and spirits wholesaler in the state of Kansas.
In 1996, Rudd’s passion for the business of fine wine and food led him to purchase the legendary New York epicurean grocery, Dean & Deluca. His keen entrepreneurial spirit soon saw the company expanding beyond SoHo and Georgetown to California (St. Helena in Napa Valley), North Carolina (Charlotte), Kansas (Kansas City), and internationally to Japan and Taiwan.
Rudd recently purchased the historic Oakville Grocery. When asked what prompted him to step in at the last moment to save the iconic brand from bankruptcy, Leslie Rudd had this to say: “I love the history surrounding this beloved Napa Valley brand. I want to see the 1881 building refurbished and the brand thriving once again. I want Oakville Grocery to continue to be the ultimate destination for wine country picnics as well as the source for local, artisanal products. My intention is to maintain Oakville Grocery as a separate brand and to recreate as much as possible the historic feel and experience that has made it a ‘must stop’ for visitors to the Napa Valley.”
One of Rudd’s long held dreams was to create a small wine estate which would produce wines of a quality challenging the very best that Europe had to offer. Rudd says one important reason he moved to Napa Valley was that he liked the hometown feel of the place. “In some ways, it’s a lot like Kansas – small towns and farms,” he says. The first wines from the Rudd Winery were released to critical praise in 2000.
Rudd’s vineyard properties in Napa Valley have expanded to include the Edge Hill Estate, a historic St. Helena-based winery founded in 1867, as well as vineyard property on Mt. Veeder. The rebirth of Edge Hill started in 2000 and the inaugural estate wine was released in October 2005.
The Edge Hill property is also home to the original Registered Distillery No. 209, licensed in 1882. On discovering that current agricultural laws would not permit a distillery to operate in Napa County, Rudd re-launched the brand by creating Distillery No. 209 at San Francisco’s Pier 50. The distillery now produces a critically lauded gin under the name 209.
Another Rudd interest is the restaurant PRESS in St. Helena. Designed by the well-known architect Howard Backen, PRESS offers an experience which goes beyond the fresh grills and roasts and the wines of Napa Valley which appear on the menu.
Rudd employs the same visionary and entrepreneurial spirit in his philanthropic efforts. Striving towards his long held goal to change the way food and wine are viewed in America, Rudd established and funded the Rudd Foundation in 1998, and subsequently, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, whose mission is to fund research and education in the fight against obesity and weight discrimination. Since its launch in the fall of 2005, Rudd Center at Yale has received widespread recognition for its leading edge research and expertise in this field.
Rudd was the primary benefactor of the new wine studies facility at the Culinary Institute of America’s west coast campus in St. Helena opened in 2003. Housed in a now renovated historic building, the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies explores the dynamics of wine and food and offers two nationally recognized certification programs and a comprehensive portfolio of wine studies classes.
History is important to Leslie Rudd. He stays close to his Wichita roots and his parents’ legacy. But Rudd is making history as well, creating and supporting new businesses and institutions whose vision and quality will ensure them a long and distinguished history of their own.