Isiah Thomas is on a roll. Through his company, Isiah International Inc, he has emerged as an international business executive and investor. Thomas was recently back in town to celebrate a new partnership with the Detroit Pistons organization and the launch of his new champagne brand, Cheurlin. BLAC found that no matter where Thomas is at, his mind is never far from his family.
BLAC: You are all about family. How do your do you uplift yours?
Isiah Thomas: I was the first generation to make some kind of money and what I did was put all my money back into the family, in terms of education,” says Thomas “Now, when our family members graduate from college, they are required to come back to work at the firm for six months to a year, to help them pay off their student loans and if they like what they’re doing, they get to stay.
BLAC: Why go into the champagne business?
Isiah Thomas: I started out in popcorn and I had a popcorn business called Indiana Popcorn and ended up selling that, and was looking for my next venture to go into. (George) Clooney had just made tequila and he had Clooney & Friends, so I looked into the tequila
space, and I looked into the wine and the vodka space, but frankly there was a new vodka, tequila and wine that came out every month. So I looked into the champagne space and realized that a new champagne hadn’t hit the market in almost 50 years.
When you look at champagne, because people always want the best, there are three presses of the grape. Most of the champagnes that
were coming to the United States were second and third press. We are the highest value brand of the first grape press on the market.
BLAC: How’s business?
Isiah Thomas: Business has been good. We are slowly gaining traction by word of mouth.We own all of our businesses. I own 100 percent of the champagne company. Very rarely do I endorse. I like to own. We’re a family-owned firm and how I decide what I’m going to do next is due to something that my econ teacher told me back in high school – “Invest in things that you like.” So I find things that I’m passionate about or have some interest
BLAC: Do you realize the impact that you’ve made on the city of Detroit?
Isiah Thomas: I’ve said this before. I don’t get treated anywhere in the world better than I’m treated in Detroit. I feel like I’m everybody’s
cousin or brother. I get invited. to everyone’s house for dinner. And it’s not a fan or an autograph thing; it really is like I’m a family member. It’s a different kind of feeling. I’m part of everyone’s family.
We are the official champagne of the Detroit Pistons organization, of course. It’s a give-back, but it’s also a reminder of the success that we’ve had. When you want to celebrate, of course, you want to celebrate with champagne, so the partnership to be inside the arena with the Pistons means that every day there is a reminder, that every game there is a reminder of that Cheurlin with Isiah to celebrate with you. It lets me in a small way stay connected to the team and stay connected to the city.
BLAC: In response to the NBA’s Kyrie Irving punishment, what was it like when you were playing ball, regarding voicing your opinions on social justice issues?
Isiah Thomas: You have to remember that I came out of the 60’s and 70’s when so much activism was strong in sports. I was a part of that generation that grew up in the 60’s, so I follow the philosophy of speaking up and speaking out. When I first came to Detroit we partnered up with Mayor Coleman Young on the “No Crime Day,” and when Nelson Mandela was first released from prison the first city that he came to was Detroit, and he put on a Detroit Pistons hat and jacket because of the activism that we were partaking in, not only as athletes, but as citizens. We are always talking about race, class and injustice. Those are some of the things that the Pistons were known for back in those days. Even though we were winning championships, our activism off the court was truly what we were known for.
BLAC: What do we have to look forward to with the company in 2023?
Isiah Thomas: We have so much to look forward to in 2023, in the champagne. space. We onboarded global hotel chains’ partnerships, Africa, Canada, bringing the champagne into the market and in the Caribbean.
On the firm side, in the green space, my company, GRE3N, operates as a vegetation utility company. You may remember when I was here in Detroit I used to do commercials for Detroit Edison; Now I own GRE3N and it operates in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas.
When the lights go out we have the bucket trucks that carry the men and tools to work with the cables to get the lights turned back on in those communities. Because I work in businesses that I’m passionate about I was learning about vegetation and utilities when I did commercials for Edison.
Photos by Boswell