Liz Chiolan is part of the growing and graying workforce of men and women in the United States.
At age 73, she continues to represent Hank’s Beverages, the family business based in Philadelphia and founded by her father, Frank “Hank” Salvatore.
Chiolan [pronounced Shalon] grew up in Philly, the oldest of five in an Italian and Catholic household. Her mother, Gloria, was a homemaker. “She was the anchor who gave us love and hugs; cooked great meals. Instilled a sense of family,” Chiolan said.
Her mother also handed down a love for music.
“She was meticulous, always got her hair and nails done. Whereas me … ?” Chiolan said with a laugh, stretching out her fingers.
Chiolan’s father was the disciplinarian, an entrepreneur whose beer distributorship, L&M Beverage Co., began in 1958. “He had a diverse portfolio of domestic and imported beer, the first to bring Yuengling, Samuel Adams, Foster’s from Australia and others to the Philadelphia area.”
Attending Catholic schools, Chiolan was a serious student. As a youngster, she did have a single encounter with the stereotypical stern nun.
“In first grade, I came into the cloakroom where other kids were clowning around, making a lot of noise,” Chiolan said. “As a nun came in one door, they ran out the other. I’m standing there all alone. When she smacked me, I was horrified. I hadn’t done anything.”
Convinced of her innocence, her father marched to the school and “read that nun the riot act.”
At Villa Joseph Marie High School, Chiolan loved every facet of learning but found time for sports — volleyball, basketball, track and also water polo. “That was grueling. The girls were so mean.” She also did synchronized swimming one year which was a “hoot.”
Chiolan worked as a shampoo girl at the local hairdresser, then at a concession stand at the neighborhood pool. She sang professionally in college with a partner who played guitar. His name, coincidentally, was Hank. The duo of Hank and Liz performed on weekends to make money for school.
“He actually graduated with a degree in film production or something like that,” Chiolan said. “I did a couple of commercials with him that aired during the Stanley Cup playoffs, which was kind of neat. We did some other recordings, too.”
Although Chiolan dreamed of singing on Broadway, her father forbade her from leaving home before marriage. “I don’t know if I would’ve made it, but it would’ve been fun to try.”
Chiolan met her first husband on a blind date at Penn State. After graduation, he was a juvenile probation officer, while she worked with the adoptions division, investigating people wanting private adoptions.
“I’d visit their homes and speak with them about their hopes and dreams for the child that was about to come, then visit with the child,” she said. “It was rewarding, I really enjoyed it.”
Chiolan put her career aside to raise their children and when their daughter entered a nursery school, she took a job there. By the time their youngest started first grade, she worked for the family business, joining her father, brothers and sister.
“I was the key account person, with 100 accounts in a five-county area and eventually, the sales manager.”
After that marriage ended, Chiolan met her second husband, Joe, at a diner they both frequented. She often stopped at the Ritz for work, befriending the bar manager. “I’d seen Joe before but one Halloween night the kids were off with friends. I stopped in and there he was, alone. Three months later, he asked me to marry him.”
Chiolan stayed with L&M until the business was sold. Her father wanted to control his own destiny, rather than being beholden to bigger companies.
In 1995, Hank’s Beverage Co. was born after Salvatore acquired a 100-year-old root beer recipe. “Philadelphia is the birthplace of root beer,” Chiolan said. “He tweaked the recipe and then expanded to other flavors. He’d say, ‘We were gourmet before gourmet was cool.’”
Joe retired in his 60s, but Chiolan continued to work in the family business. Over the years, they visited friends in Port St. Lucie. When they moved here in 2016, she worked remotely, visiting clients and prospective customers. “Hank’s is in 45 states now, all the Cracker Barrels, Miller’s Ale Houses, other locations.”
Three years ago, just days after a cancer diagnosis, Joe passed away. “I couldn’t believe it,” Chiolan said. “He went in [to surgery] to get well, right? But he’s at peace. I wouldn’t want him to suffer.”
Today, Chiolan stays active with Hank’s and is part of Living Faith Church’s music ministry and Loving Hands crochet ministry in Tradition.
And she made it to Broadway.
After being cast in the ensemble for the Barn Theatre’s 2022 production of Mamma Mia, she auditioned for a variety show. This March, Treasure Coast Theatre’s Babes on Broadway featured Chiolan in several numbers including Memory from Cats. At the cast party following the sold-out run, she brought an assortment of — what else? Hank’s gourmet sodas.
Her father would have been proud.
Lives in: Port St. Lucie, in the Lake Charles development
Occupation: Sales and marketing specialist for Hank’s Beverages
Family: Widowed; a son in China; daughter in Philadelphia; grandson in the Air Force
Education: Degree in general arts and sciences from Penn State; master’s in K-12 education from Holy Family University
Hobbies: Singing, keyboard, composing, crocheting, performing, dancing
Who inspires me: “He’s passed now, of course, but my father inspires me still.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “In college, our duo was put up at a fancy hotel in Manhattan so we could record songs at CBS Studio for a man who traveled all over the country. He had a presentation for schools using our music. He even had cardboard cutouts of us. I wonder what happened to them?”
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