Black Bear Bottling, maker of brightly colored sodas, files for …

Black Bear Bottling, maker of brightly colored sodas, files for receivership

Black Bear Bottling, a 97-year-old Milwaukee-area soda maker known for such flavors as lime, blue raspberry and peach — and their vivid colors — has filed for receivership.

Black Bear’s move to seek protection from creditors comes only a few years after the company expanded its Oak Creek operations and added a third production line.

Black Bear is still operating. But the firm faces a court-supervised sale, or possibly the piecemeal liquidation of its machinery, office equipment and other assets.

Seth Dizard, the court-appointed receiver now running Black Bear on behalf of the company’s creditors, said by email Monday that it is too early to gauge the odds of Black Bear being sold as a going business.

Such a sale is typically the most favorable outcome for companies that go into receivership, a state-court proceeding similar to bankruptcy.

The receivership petition, filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, sketches the basics of Black Bear’s financial plight: debts totaling $10.7 million, stacked against assets with a $9.4 million book value but a fair value that is “significantly less.”

Black Bear owes $5.3 million to First Bank of Highland Park and has pledged substantially all its assets as security on the debt, according to another document filed in circuit court. The bank has agreed to provide financing to Black Bear so it can continue operating while the court proceedings unwind.

Black Bear employs 67 people, a court document says. The company’s website, however, says it has 30 employees.

The difference may be in the way temporary workers are tallied. In another court case, Black Bear is being sued by QPS Employment Group Inc., of Brookfield, for allegedly not paying $275,000 owed for staffing services. Black Bear denies it owes the money and says QPS did not provide suitable personnel.

Black Bear was started in 1920 in St. Francis. The firm moved to Oak Creek in the early 2000s.

Operated since 1961 by the Caruso family, Black Bear Bottling Group LLC produces beverages for regional and national brands. The company is located south of W. Ryan Road, at 2025 W. South Branch Blvd.

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