Why I’m Running
I believe Congress needs a new generation of leaders willing to place principles over party, serve common interests over special interests, and favor independence over rigid ideology. Representation begins with listening, and I am extending invitations to every resident of Minnesota’s 3rd District to come have a conversation with me and discuss what’s on your mind. My commitment to you is that I will be accessible, I will listen, I will learn, and I will always represent the principles and values I believe most of us share.
My life began differently than many know.
My parents, DeeDee Cohen and Artie Pfefer, met at St. Paul Central High School and were married in 1967.
Raised by my grandma Ruth, a single mother who worked at a local department store to make ends meet, Artie grew up with very limited resources but big dreams. An Army ROTC scholarship afforded him the opportunity to attend the University of Minnesota Law School, after which he was deployed to Vietnam as a Captain in the U.S. Army.
In July of 1969, when I was six months old, he was killed in action. My mother was 24 and widowed, and we moved in with my great-grandparents for the first three years of my life. Fate dealt me a lucky hand in 1972 when my mother married Eddie Phillips, who adopted me, nurtured me, and brought me into a family of great achievement and high expectations.
From Jay Phillips, whose name adorns The Phillips-Wangensteen Building at the University of Minnesota, The Phillips Eye Institute, and The Jay Phillips Center for Multifaith Learning, to Abigail Van Buren, aka Dear Abby, aka Grandma, who shared advice with millions around the world and was a pioneer for human rights, I was blessed with extraordinary role models who taught me that success is to be measured not by how much one collects, rather by how much one shares.
In the early 1970s we moved to Edina, where I attended Highlands Elementary School, spent summer afternoons playing baseball and wading in Nine Mile Creek, and spent winters playing hockey at Walnut Ridge Park. While I’ve loved and played hockey my entire life, my career peaked as a goalie for the 1979-80 Edina Squirt A team. That year, my teammates and I gathered around a television in Alexandria, Minn., to watch our U.S. Olympic Hockey team defeat the Russians. It’s a memory that will be forever seared into my mind as the moment I learned that anything was possible, no matter how challenging the circumstances or how remote the odds.
In 1980 my parents moved me to The Blake School in Hopkins, where former Republican Congressman John Anderson addressed our assembly one morning during his independent run for President. Many of his principles resonate with me to this day, including the importance of independent-mindedness in government and his disdain for the role of special-interest money in campaigns.
My parents demanded that I work hard through high school. I bussed tables at Runyon’s in downtown Minneapolis, started a mobile carwash service, interned at an architectural firm, and worked in the print shop at my family’s distribution business.
I graduated from Brown University in 1991 and moved back to Minnesota, where I joined a start-up business that produced cycling apparel and equipment. A few years later I joined our family business, where I picked orders in the warehouse; made Phillips vodka, schnapps and liqueurs in the rectifying plant; worked on the bottling line; and eventually trained as a sales representative. I have fond memories of driving through every nook and cranny of Minnesota establishing relationships with independent storeowners and selling our products. Eventually, I was entrusted with developing international sales and traveled the world selling our brands. It was during a trip to Poland with my father and our colleague Steve Gill that we acquired the rights to Belvedere and Chopin Vodka, which we introduced in the U.S. in 1994 and created an entirely new category of spirits.
After attending the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School on the weekends, I earned my MBA in 2000 and was promoted to CEO of Phillips Distilling Company. Of the many successful brands our team created, Prairie Vodka is the one of which I’m most proud. Resulting from the collaboration of a co-op of farmers, three family-owned organic corn growers and Phillips Distilling, we created an entirely made-in-Minnesota product, from seed to glass, which has grown into the best-selling certified organic spirit in the world.
After the untimely passing of my father in 2011 from multiple myeloma, I left Phillips Distilling to join a small gelato business in which he had invested. Together with my partners Josh Hochschuler and Steve Gill, we built Talenti into America’s largest gelato brand and one of the best-selling ice creams in the country.
In 2015 I partnered with fellow entrepreneur Ben Hertz to open Penny’s Coffee — winner of the City Pages “Best Coffee Shop in the Twin Cities” in 2017. Penny’s is a small business with two locations now that we plan to grow by putting employees first and making livable wages a founding principle.
I am a divorced father of two remarkable daughters, Daniela, 20, and Pia, 18, and live in Deephaven with my partner of three years, Annalise, and our Norwich Terrier puppy, Henry. Last summer Daniela helped open our second Penny’s location and learned the basics of business development. Pia, who is off to college this fall, focuses much of her time on PAB’s Packs, a non-profit organization she co-founded with her friend Abbie Nelson that provides comfort and encouragement to chronically ill teens by distributing special backpacks filled with cozy items to make their hospital stays easier.
Community service is an integral part of my life and a responsibility I take very seriously. My work has been focused on furthering youth, education and health and fighting discrimination. I’m a former regent at Saint Johns University and a former Board Chair of Allina Health, the operator of Abbott Northwestern, Mercy-Unity and United Hospitals. In 2013 I helped bring WE Day, the global youth-empowerment initiative, to Minnesota, and we now engage more than 150,000 students in almost 600 schools throughout the state. I chair the boards of our family charitable foundations and constantly seek innovative people, organizations and ideas to help as many people as possible become healthier and more self-sufficient.
While luck brought me into a family that afforded me great opportunity, it also demanded accountability, responsibility, hard work and civic engagement. I am very grateful for these gifts, and to have been raised in a family that taught me that success should not be measured by what is collected, but by what is shared.
I am a fiscally responsible, socially inclusive and, yes, fortunate man who is inspired to represent Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District with a strong, independent voice of reason, a focus on new ideas, and a commitment to principled and courageous leadership. I invite you to share your ideas, concerns, dreams, and challenges with me. This is a campaign for Democrats, Republicans and Independents who believe our best days are ahead, and everyone’s invited!