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The evolution of Ben E. Keith Company has occurred through visionary management and the beverage story is no different from those humble beginnings in 1906 as a produce company. Then, Ben E. Keith was known as Harkrider-Morrison Company and was a wholesaler of groceries and sundries. Within a few years of its founding, Ben E. Keith’s knowledge of routing, operations, and sales pulled him into a leadership role, and, by 1931, the company was renamed after him.
While Keith accomplished many remarkable achievements, none are more valuable to the Beverage Division as his decision to venture into the selling of ice cream syrups to offset the summer loss of sales of vegetables and fruits. In 1928, Keith visited St. Louis and met with Adolphus Busch, whose brewery was making syrups, baker’s yeast and other products since it could not brew beer during Prohibition. When Prohibition ended, Ben E. Keith Company became a wholesaler of Anheuser Busch beers.
Then enters Gaston Hallam, the father of Robert and Howard, our current owners. Gaston began his career with the company in 1924 and later became a major stockholder, president and chairman. He was witness to much of the lack of regulation during the first years after the repeal of Prohibition, the formation of the WBDT (wholesale beer distributors of Texas), and the evolution of refrigerated, package trucks. When Gaston decided to step down from his Chairman position in 1979, he announced his son Robert as his successor.
It was under the leadership of Robert that many things began to change. Under Robert, the food division went from being a produce distributor to one of the largest full-service institutional distributors in the country.
The Beverage Division achieved a milestone in December of 1982 when it was the second distributor in the country to sell a million barrels of beer in one calendar year. Both Food and Beverage continued to grow over the next several decades but the next milestone for Beverage did not come until 2007.
It was in that year that Ben E. Keith began distributing products outside of the Anheuser-Busch portfolio and in 2008, purchased C.R. Goodman Company and picked up 60 import & craft brands. Later that same year we acquired Authentic Distributing and added another 30 brewery partners. And again in 2009, Ben E. Keith acquired 60 additional brands from Glazers Distributing. These three purchases brought the company to the forefront of the beverage industry and the ability to sell many brands statewide. Now in our 107th year of business, the beverage division sells over 39 million cases of beer all through the state. It is the continued vision of our leaders throughout the years that has made Ben E. Keith Company a success.