Harkrider-Morrison & Ben E. Keith
Ben E. Keith was the first salesman and junior partner of Harkrider-Morrison, a produce company in Fort Worth, Texas. Orders were written on tablets and delivered by horse and buggy. Due to some changes in partners, the company operated under the name of Harkrider-Keith-Cooke for several years.
Ft. Worth Produce House
The second warehouse opened under the name Merchant's Fruit Company, and was managed by Charles V. Nichols, one of the earliest distributors of strawberries.
Ben E. Keith takes the reins
At the age of 36, Ben E. Keith became President and General Manager.
Dallas, Abilene and more warehouses
In the early 1920's the company expanded its operation by purchasing two Dallas produce houses; one of which, The Harry Harlan Produce Company, was used as the temporary Dallas Headquarters. A third warehouse was established in Abilene to serve West Texas.
The Pearl Street location
A.A. Jackson Produce was purchased and the building stables were renovated to make room for delivery trucks. The company operated out of this Pearl Street location until a new Dallas warehouse was built 50 years later in 1972.
Gaston Hallam joins Ben E. Keith
A young man named Gaston Hallam joined the company after two years at Austin College. He was originally hired to unload boxcars and a year later was promoted to bookkeeper in the Dallas office.
He recalled unloading fruit and vegetables from dawn until dusk, picking up crates of lettuce weighing 70lbs. "Twenty pounds of that was ice," he said.
This ad appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram announcing the firm's continuation after the 1925 fire.
Ben E. Keith Meets Adolphus Busch
Although the produce business was extremely profitable during the winter months, sales were slow in the summer. Many people were growing their own gardens during the hot summer months and as a result made fewer purchases.
This presented a problem for the company, so Ben E. Keith set off for St. Louis to find a solution. He met with Adolphus Busch and from this meeting the company became an independent distributor of Anheuser-Busch products.
During the Prohibition, the major products were ice cream syrup in several flavors, as well as baker's yeast, starch, dextrine (cattle feed made from spunt grain), and ginger ale. This turned the company around during the summer months when produce sales were down.
Gifts baskets were introduced and the first catalog offered various combinations of fruits, but specialized in Texas Grapefruits.
1931 Restored Truck
A restored 1931 Chevrolet 11/2 Ton truck is often used in parades or customer events. 1931 marked the first time Chevrolet offered their own truck bodies. Prior to 1931, truck bodies were supplied by aftermarket companies or simply built by the owner himself. It was also the first year the cab was produced with a single piece of steel.
Ben E. Keith
Harkrider-Keith-Cooke formally changed its name to Ben E. Keith Company in 1931. A forerunner of current ownership, Gaston Hallam, had joined the company in 1924.
Prohibition ended, and since Ben E. Keith was in the produce business, they already had their refrigerated storage coolers and delivery trucks, which were key to becoming a beverage distributor. Draught beer was not pasteurized so it had to be kept cold (under forty degrees) or it would spoil. The company opened warehouses in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Mineral Wells and the company's first beer order from Anheuser Busch totaled 57 railcars.
First Anheuser Busch Beer Order
When Prohibition ended, the company's first order of beer from Anheuser-Busch totaled 57 carloads, to be shipped to locations around the state. Notations are by Gaston, who later became the majority stockholder and chairman of the Ben E. Keith Company.
1935 Beer Delivery
By 1935 open-bed tucks had been covered with an awning to protect their cargo from weather. This vehicle served the Breckenridge area.
1930’s Draught Truck
This draught truck delivered kegs of beer during the late 1930s.
Fred Miller poses in a 1940s - era retail display which was much less elaborate than those used today.
Fresh From Keith’s, Trula House
The company needed a way to connect with households about our fresh produce in grocery stores, so the FRESH FROM KEITH'S slogan was created by Mr. Keith's assistant, Trula House. This successfully accomplished institutional advertising of fresh fruits and vegetables. The slogan was posted on everything from Ben E. Keith trucks to store posters to packages of produce. This slogan is still used today.
Pension and Profit-Sharing Plans
Because of Ben E. Keith's belief in his fellow man and his genuine concern for his employees, an employee relations program was established and Ben E. Keith Company became one of the first to establish pension and profit-sharing plans.
Ben E. Keith pioneered the food show concept at the Dallas Fair.
Recovering and Moving Forward
After struggling to keep equipment and vehicles operating during World War II, the Company went on a spending spree in 1946 and purchased special truck bodies and refrigerated trailers.
State of the Art Warehouse
A new state-of-the-art warehouse was constructed at 9th and Pecan in downtown Fort Worth and opened with much publicity on August 7, 1958. The 56,000-square-foot building's 11 coolers were equipped with temperature and humidity controls to store fruits, vegetables and ripening bananas. Another cooler could store 1.5 million pounds of frozen foods. Products were received from rail cars on the Fort Worth & Denver Railway siding or via transport truck at the seven truck wells.
The loss of Ben E. Keith
(1882-1959) Ben suffered from throat cancer and spent months in treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. He attended the open house for the new building in August 1958, but his health declined rapidly. Hospitalized in February 1959, he died August 17, 1959. Funeral services were held at Fort Worth's First Presbyterian Church. Burial followed in Oakwood Cemetery.
Because of his civic and business prominence, notices of his death appeared in newspapers and trade publications around the country.
Gaston Hallam named President
Gaston Hallam, a major stockholder and the "oldest" employee in length of service is named President.
Ft. Worth Ground Breaking
New building plans were announced to accommodate the company's expanded product line. Land was purchased for a new beer warehouse in Fort Worth at 7th and Pecan, just down the street from Fort Worth produce operations and the company's general office.
Dallas Beer District Managers
Dallas Beer District Managers wore red coats when calling on customers. Left to right in the top row, Frank Dewey, Johnny Hinsley, Billy Cox, Troy LaGrone, Bill Dillon, D.W. "Blondie" Mize, Alvin Parks, Bill Rowley and Odell Calloway. Bottom row, Emil Cagle, Roy Combs, George Hill, Jimmy Smith, Gaston Hallam, Robert Hallam, Willie Lamb, Fred Smergilio and Mike Rucker.
Bowler hats with a Budweiser band were part of the ensemble worn by associates at the Food and Home Show at Dallas' Market Hall in 1975. While the young lady's name is not known, Troy LaGrone, Blondie Mize, and Leo Mynarcik,left to right, staffed the booth.
New Leadership Emerges
Gaston Hallam announces his retirement. His eldest son, Robert Hallam will succeed him as chairman and CEO and Howard Hallam is named COO of Ben E. Keith Company. Assuming the title of chairman emeritus, Gaston stepped down from day-to-day management decisions but continued to come to the office daily.
Budweiser Light Introduced into the Market
Budweiser Light introduced into the market
New Dallas Beer Building Ribbon Cutting
A giant, aluminum beer tab was used for the ribbon-cutting of the new Dallas Beer building in 1983. Left to right, Charlie Davis, Howard Hallam, Gaston Hallam, Robert Hallam, and Troy LaGrone.
Company Charged into the Computer Age
The company charged into the computer age with the day’s state-of-the-art computer system to modernize accounting, sales and inventory.
In November 1985 separate corporate structures were created for food and beer divisions. Troy LaGrone was named president of the beer division. During his 47-year career, Troy LaGrone built the beer distributorship into the largest in the country.
Great Distributor Organization Award
Just ten years after Gaston Hallam passed the leadership reins to his sons Robert and Howard, and seven years after Ben E. Keith Foods expanded into a full-service broadline distributor, the company received the very prestigious Great Distributor Organization Award from ID Magazine. Ben E. Keith Foods was becoming an industry leader in technology advancements and all aspects of operations.
The final decade of the 20th century
Both food and beer sales were up in early 1990, but the Company experienced a huge loss when Gaston Hallam died on April 28th. During his almost 30 years of leadership, the Company had grown from 400 employees and $50 million in sales to 1,200 employees and sales of $350 million.
The Ben E. Keith Company was becoming more and more technologically advanced; computers had taken over many aspects of the company and we began to integrate more technology into our warehouses.
One of the leading supporters of the technology had come to us many years before; Mike Roach became President of Ben E. Keith Foods in 1998 and Executive Vice President of Ben E. Keith Company and has remained diligent in improving the company.
Kevin Bartholomew is Named President of Beverage
Kevin Bartholomew is named President of the Beverage Division.
Combined efforts show to be profitable
The company continued to grow and develop into the profitable company it is to this day. In 2000, Ben E. Keith Food sales reached over $600 million. During this time the Dallas and Fort Worth Offices combined and moved into the new DFW Distribution Center built in south Fort Worth.
Only two years before the company’s 100th anniversary, annual sales reached $1 billion.
The Growth and Expansion buzz
Growth and Expansion were the buzz words in 2006. We opened state-of-the-art facilities in Oklahoma and in Amarillo. Both divisions now service customers from more than 300,000 square feet with room to still grow.
The Next Generation
In July of 2008, it was announced that John Hallam and Robert Hallam Jr. had been promoted to Vice Presidents of Ben E. Keith Company. Both previously held Vice President positions within the company's beverage division and now will play a larger role in the overall company strategy.
Beverage Division Purchases C.R. Goodman Co
Beverage division purchases C.R. Goodman Co. and now distributes import & craft beers.
Continuing to raise the bar
As a company we continue to raise the bar in regards to expectations and in June of 2008, marking the end of our fiscal year, Ben E. Keith Foods reached over $1 billion in sales.
Ben E. Keith Purchases Winn Meat Company
In addition to its award-winning custom cutting operation, portion control of raw meat products, and cooked food production, the Winn Meat Company procurement team provides customers with a product array of the finest proteins to please their customers’ palates from: Sterling Silver Premium Meats, Meyer Natural Angus Beef, Nueske's, Provimi Foods, Maple Leaf Farms, Mountain States Rosen Co., D'Artagnan, Pilot Brands, Snake River Farms, The Town Dock, North American Bison Cooperative, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Sullivan Harbor Farm and Salumeria Biellese.
Ben E. Keith Wins IFMA Award
Ben E. Keith is awarded the IFMA Distributor Sales & Marketing Performance Award at the association’s second annual Distributor Award ceremony in Chicago. The award acknowledges distributor leadership and overall excellence within the foodservice industry for successful planning and execution of creative sales and marketing.
Golden Pallet Award
For excellence in warehousing and exemplary leadership and dedication to the industry, Ben E. Keith Foods has been named the 2009 Golden Pallet Award winner, sponsored by Food Logistics magazine.
“Construction Manager, Move That Dirt!”
Construction is underway in Houston and is expected to be completed in late 2012 or early 2013 on the first Ben E. Keith distribution center with plans of earning LEED certification and automated storage and retrieval systems.
Ben E. Keith Beverages: Beer Wholesaler of the Year
Market Watch Magazine names Ben E. Keith Beverages the 2011 Wholesaler of the Year!
Ben E. Keith is THE Best Place to Be!
WE all know that Ben E. Keith is a great place to work, but lots of others are now acknowledging that fact as well. In the January 2012 issue of Fort Worth, Texas Magazine, we were named one of the Best Places to Work, largely due to our benefit programs.
Houston Division Ships First Product
After years of planning and building, the Ben E. Keith Houston Division is a reality. The total size of the facility is 474,861 sq ft, with the opportunity to expand to over 1 million sq ft. Unlike the other BEK campuses, the division's office building is a separate 49,126 sq ft building in front of the warehouse and is qualified for LEED Gold certification from the US Green Building Council. The grand opening of the newest facility was set for September 14, 2013.
Nominated for The Craft Beer Distributor of the Year Award
Ben E. Keith Beverages is recognized as a Nominee for The Craft Beer Distributor of the Year Award. Each year the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) and Brewers Association (BA) recognize one beer distributor as the “Craft Beer Distributor of the Year.” The award recognizes an American beer distribution company that does the most to market, promote, and sell craft beer.
Ben E. Keith Beverages Opens a New Austin Branch
The Austin Branch moved to its newly completed distribution center in August of 2014. The branch has a total of 96,994 square feet on 11.3 acres, with 50,000 square feet of refrigerated space and 25,000 square feet of ambient temperature space.
A transition year with continued success
Mike Roach retired as President of the Foodservice Division, and was succeeded by Mike Sweet.
Ground was broken for a new distribution center in North Little Rock, combining the Pike Street and Lindsey Road locations. Oklahoma’s facility began extensive freezer expansion, and land was purchased for a new distribution center for the San Antonio Division.
An innovative e-commerce platform called The Entrée System was rolled out to customers, combining all functions from placing orders to online bill pay, in one web-based location.
And, the San Antonio and Oklahoma Divisions were once again chosen as Top Places to Work in their respective markets.