In Good Spirits

At Nevada’s biggest liquor distributor, Michael Severino is the guy who makes sure the money flows back into the city, too

There’s little doubt that Michael Severino is a fortunate man. He works for a company whose business is alcohol, and besides being surrounded by some of the finest elixirs known to man, that business is always booming, thanks to a city in which more than 100 million alcoholic beverages are consumed each year.

On top of that, in his role as general manager of event marketing for Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, Severino is responsible for overseeing the company’s extensive philanthropic efforts—essentially using spirits to lift spirits.

“Health, education and social responsibility have been at the top of our list as far as giving back not only to Las Vegas, but to the state of Nevada,” he says. “We take pride in the fact that we’re able to do it and we ingratiated ourselves with the community, and them with us.”

Southern Wine & Spirits has donated and helped raise millions of dollars to organizations such as the Nevada Cancer Institute, Opportunity Village, Catholic Charities, the Andre Agassi Foundation, Keep Memory Alive and UNLV’s Harrah College of Hotel Administration, which gets a big boost every year through the company’s UNLVino festival. And Severino has been a vital force in those efforts, according to his boss.

“Michael Severino is an important part of my life, and an important part of the culture of Southern Wine & Spirits,” says Larry Ruvo, the company’s senior managing director. “I would have a huge void if he weren’t here at my side giving us the presence in the community that we’ve enjoyed through the decades.”

Seven Things Michael Can’t Live Without

  • Wine: It is the common denominator with people, food and good conversation. Also, because we sell a lot of it.
  • Frank Sinatra’s music: I grew up listening to his music and my Aunt Josephine told me stories when she would cut school as a kid to go see him at the Paramount Theater in New York City in the ’40s.
  • Mixologists: Their creativity with alcoholic beverage recipes have made them celebrity bar chefs, especially my friend Francesco Lafranconi, who makes a great Negroni.
  • Good books: I am fascinated by good literature and the written word, especially nonfiction because most of the time it’s stranger than fiction.
  • A Bronx Tale: Because of its heartfelt message. It really is a love story between a father and a son and growing up in New York. I think Chazz Palminteri is a class act—you should see his show or watch the movie.
  • Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health: Because of what it will mean to Nevada and the world. And it bears the name of a man I was fortunate enough to call my friend.
  • Gratitude: Being able to give back and setting a good example for the next generation. Well-done is better than well-said, and to say thank you more often to people and mean it.

Severino, 61, was born and raised in New York City and has lived in Nevada since 1977. He met Ruvo while working as food and beverage director at the Frontier, and the two have been close friends ever since. Ruvo’s parents owned and operated the popular Venetian restaurant, a Las Vegas staple for 43 years. In 1992, after Ruvo’s father, Lou, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Severino came to the Venetian to help the family maintain the business. “He was the crutch for my father for two years, and that’s something I’ll never forget,” Larry Ruvo says. “He was just an extraordinary friend and extremely capable.”

Severino and Ruvo are both devoted to Keep Memory Alive, a nonprofit organization Ruvo founded in the late 1990s to support research and education on memory disorders. This passion and support led to the establishment of the city’s marquee medical institute, the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

Now at Southern Wine & Spirits for 14 years, Severino says it is Ruvo’s dedication to the community that allows the company to perform its charitable acts.

“He’s the one who allows us to give back,” Severino says. “It’s his philosophy, and he’s truly a philanthropist.”

But it is Severino’s responsibility to carry out Ruvo’s philanthropic mission, and Ruvo says his ability to build relationships, develop and train people, and maximize the impact of each event makes him the ideal person for the task.

“We recognize that when our community succeeds, we succeed,” Ruvo says. “And Michael is a great person to spread that message to our employees. He’s somebody that they look up to.”

Severino is simply thankful for being in the position to do good works. “We’ve been blessed that we’re able to do it,” he says, “and our suppliers support a lot of what we do.”

Despite the tough times, alcohol sales are still doing well, and Southern Wine & Spirits is the leading distributor in the state, shipping more than 10 million cases of product annually—excluding beer and water. While many high-end wines and spirits have seen a decline in consumption, Severino says the purchase of import and crafted beers are strong, and that same demographic that is fueling upscale beer sales is also getting more interested in wine.

“There’s a wonderful charm about wines,” he says, “and we try and take the mystique away from it and let people know that it is an agricultural product. … The people who are in the business are very passionate about what they do, and we’re very passionate about selling.”

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