J. Berman; ‘Mr. Kahlua’ Was Developer, Donor


Jules Berman, who made his fortune and his reputation as a liquor importer by bringing Kahlua to the United States and making it the world’s top-selling liqueur, has died. He was 87.

Berman, also known as a Southern California real estate developer and philanthropist, died Saturday of heart failure at Century City Hospital.

Among major residential and commercial developments guided by Berman were Lake Arrowhead, Huntington Harbor and El Capitan Ranch near Santa Barbara, where Berman once raised Lipizzaner horses.


The phenomenally successful Berman, who became known as “Mr. Kahlua” and named his yacht for the Mexican coffee-flavored liqueur, began humbly by opening a liquor store called Llord’s in Beverly Hills following the repeal of Prohibition.

He added five more stores and then sold his small chain and worked for a national liquor company. After serving in the Navy during World War II, Berman started his own company to import wine and liquor.

Berman Enterprises became a leader in the industry nationally and popularized such foreign brands as Cinzano vermouth, J&B; Scotch, Lancer wines, Heineken, Bass Ale, Guinness stout, and, of course, Kahlua.

Branching into real estate, Berman controlled the publicly held Lake Arrowhead Development Co., which was purchased from Santa Anita Consolidated in 1961 for $6.5 million. The resort area was sold to Boise Cascade Corp. in 1968 for $18 million.

Berman also was chairman of publicly owned Christiana Oil Corp., which developed Huntington Harbor.

When he bought the El Capitan Ranch, Berman stocked it with 29 Lipizzaners from Austria and hired the late Fritz Bader to train them in the techniques made famous by the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. Berman later developed the property into luxury homes.

Other properties around Southern California in which Berman had financial or development interests included Runyan Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains and Apple Valley in San Bernardino County.

The entrepreneur was generous in his multimillion-dollar gifts to the Harold Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at UCLA’s Anderson School of Business and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

He served on the California State Athletic and Crime Commission and on the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee.

An orchid-grower and art collector, Berman also made his considerable collection of pre-Columbian art available for exhibit in Los Angeles museums and galleries.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Ruth Joyce Berman. Their son, Barry, died in 1986.

Funeral services will be private. The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Psychological Trauma Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.