With his uncanny ability to identify and create favors, David Dafoe’s Flavorman and Moonshine University are riding the boom in craft distilleries.
Back in 2010 a Miami entrepreneur approached David Dafoe for help creating a drink called Rabbit Habbit, to be made with horny goat weed, a foul-tasting herb purported to act like a natural Viagra. It was a familiar challenge for Dafoe’s company, Flavorman: Mask the weed with pleasant fruity favors. He and his lab technicians worked their magic, and the client was thrilled.
A rotund man with a gray goatee and an easy laugh, Dafoe, 53, has turned a freakish ability to identify favors into a business on track to produce $14 million in revenue this year, recently profting from the public’s taste for craft-distilled spirits like moonshine, which, absent favoring, can taste like rubbing alcohol. Along the way he has survived several traumatic reversals, including a fawed business model, the exit of a too-big-to-lose client and a devastating illness.
Dafoe discovered his unlikely gift in 1985 when he applied on a whim at a Cincinnati favor house then known as Fries & Fries. He correctly identifed the favors in fve soufé cups flled with clear liquid, including one he was almost too embarrassed to mention: “I remember thinking, ‘Holy crap, I can’t say pork chop because that seems so ridiculous.’ ” He said it anyway and got the job.
He spent fve years at Brown-forman, maker of megabrands like Jack Daniel’s, while earning an M.B.A. When Chiquita Brands tried to recruit him, he got the idea to start a consulting business with Chiquita as an anchor client. At frst he charged just for the recipes, using free samples he cadged from big favor companies like International Flavors & Fragrances, but when a