Ben E. Keith Company
Ben E. Keith Company is the 8th largest broad line foodservice distributor and fourth largest beverage distributor in the United States. Its independent Food Division serves eleven states and supplies a full line of produce, frozen foods, meats, dry groceries, refrigerated foods, paper goods, equipment and supplies to restaurants, hospitals, schools, nursing homes and other institutional businesses. The company is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas. Ben E. Keith was also at one time the world's largest independent distributor of Anheuser-Busch Inbev products and currently delivers Anheuser-Busch Inbev products to 66 Texas counties, but now also distributes other nationally known craft and import beers throughout the state of Texas.
Together, Ben E. Keith Company employs over 3500 people.
Ben E. Keith Company, established in 1906, began selling Anheuser-Busch Inbev products in 1933. Today, Ben E. Keith Company - Beverage Distributors, guided by President Kevin Bartholomew, has become the fourth largest beer wholesaler in the country.
Robert worked for the company part-time during high school and college (University of Texas) and since 1969, on a full-time basis. He worked in the warehouses, on the trucks, and through a variety of positions until 1974 when he became a vice president. In 1979, he took over his present responsibilities. He has a JD from the University of Texas.
Mel has been with the company since January 1984. Previously, he worked with Frito-Lay, Inc. for 14 years in various financial management positions. He received his BA from the University of Oklahoma and his MBA from the University of Dallas in 1982.
David has been with Ben E. Keith since 1982. Previously, he worked in the law offices of Richard D. Walker. He received his BA from the University of Texas in 1973 and his JD from the University of Texas in 1976.
John Hallam, Vice President
John has worked for Ben E. Keith Company full-time since 1990. John has held several positions within both the food and beverage divisions, most recently John was Vice President and General Manager of the Dallas Branch for the Beverage Division. He graduated from Tulane University in 1989 and earned his MBA at the University of Texas in 2004.
Robert Hallam, Jr., Vice President
Robert has worked for Ben E. Keith Company full-time since 1997. He has held several different positions within the food and beverage divisions and most recently served as the Vice President of Marketing for the Beverage Division. Robert graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1993 and later returned to earn his MBA in 1997.
1906 Harkrider-Morrison Company was a produce company in Fort Worth, TX that delivered to local grocery stores and restaurant owners. The deliveries were made by horse and buggy and orders were taken on “Big Chief” tablets.
Ben E. Keith was the first salesman and junior partner. Through his continual contributions to the company as well as to his community, he was able to steer the company from its humble beginnings into the present position as one of the major produce and beer distributors in the country.
1907 The first branch was established in Wichita Falls, Texas and operated originally under the name of Wichita Produce Company. The warehouse was managed for several years by Ben’s older brother George D. Keith Sr., and later by George D. Keith Jr.
1911 One of the partners, R.E. Morrison withdrew from the company, and the name was changed to Harkrider-Keith-Cooke Company to reflect Ben’s growing role in the management of the fledging company. The success of the little produce firm made it possible to open a second house in Fort Worth in 1912.
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.
1917 Another of the partners, W. Steve Cooke, withdrew from the company to become a co-founder in a Dodge dealership in Fort Worth and one year later C. E. Harkrider withdrew from the company.
1918 At the age of 36, Ben E. Keith purchased controlling interest of the Harkrider-Keith-Cooke Company and became President and General Manager.
1919 - 1920 In the early 1920s 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.
1922 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.
1924 A young man named Gaston Hallam joined the company after two years at Austin College. He was originally hired to unload boxcars at the Fort Worth warehouse and a year later was promoted to bookkeeper in the Dallas office. He recalled unloading the boxcars of fruit and vegetables from dawn until dusk, picking up crates of lettuce weighing seventy pounds. “Twenty pounds of that was ice”, he said. “It took good strong men to work the produce business”.
1925 Progress enabled the thriving produce company to open an office in Lubbock, Texas to further serve the vast West Texas and New Mexico area. Gaston Hallam was transferred to the new office to serve as Assistant Manager.
1926 The Mexia Fruit and Vegetable Company was purchased and Gaston Hallam was again transferred to manager the office. He was later transferred to manage the Corsicana Fruit and Vegetable Company when it was purchased.
1928 Although the produce business was extremely profitable during the winter months; however, sales were slow in the summer. This was due to many people growing their own gardens during the hot summer months and as a result made fewer purchases. In addition, the farmers would often sell their own harvests directly to growers.
This presented quite a problem to the company, and Ben E. Keith set out to find a solution. He met with Adolphus Busch in St. Louis. From this meeting the company became an independent distributor of Anheuser-Busch Inbev products.
Since this was during the Prohibition, the major product was ice cream syrup, which came in several flavors. The company also distributed Anheuser-Busch’s baker’s yeast, starch, dextrine (cattle feed made from spunt grain), and ginger ale. Among the more popular products were Bevo, a beer substitute or “near-beer”, and Anheuser-Busch malt syrup. This helped to turn the company around during the summer months when produce sales were down.
1929 Robert D. Erwin joined the company as branch manager of the Lubbock office, steered it through the Depression, and managed to maintain a steady and profitable business. When the rest of the world suffered the hardships inflicted by the stock market crash, the Lubbock office continued to operate at a profit.
Gift baskets were also introduced during this time and the first catalog offered various combinations of fruits, but specialized in Texas Grapefruits. Since there were no cardboard boxes and cellophane wrappers in the early days, packaging had to be very imaginative. Sturdy wooden boxes and colorful Mexican wicker baskets with lids were used to show off a delicious array of fruits.
1931 Hardriker-Keith-Cooke Company formally changed its name to Ben E. Keith Company.
1933 Prohibition ended, and since Ben E. Keith was in the produce business, they already had their refrigerated storage coolers and delivery trucks, which was a 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 Inbev totaled 57 railcars.
1940 The third addition in the company’s expanding product line came in the 1940s with the advent of frozen foods, which had been available on an institutional basis long before they came to the consumer market after World War II.
The company was careful to select only top quality brands to distribute to its customers, and became one of the first distributors of Birdseye products in Texas.
1941 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.
1943 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.
1959 Upon the death of Ben E. Keith, on August 17, 1959, R.D. “Buddy” Erwin succeeded him as president and later chairman of the board and Gaston Hallam, a major stockholder and the longest tenured employee, continued to oversee the beverage operations.
Both Erwin and Hallam were dedicated to the success and prosperity of the Ben E. Keith Company. This was evident in the fact that during this time both the beverage and produce operations prospered under their leadership.
1962 Technology was advancing and during this time the first electric fork-lift was purchased along with gravity controlled conveyor belts, to help simplify our operations.
1965 Buddy retired in April 1965 and announced the promotion of Gaston Hallam to CEO.
1966 The Knighton Produce Company in Shreveport, Louisiana was purchased. The Panhandle Fruit Company was also purchased and later became the Amarillo Distribution Center.
1968 Purchased Panhandle Fruit Company in Amarillo, Texas.
1972 Even with Vietnam, rampant inflation, price controls and high fuel prices we chose to embrace change. A new computer system was installed to modernize our accounting and generate individual sales records and inventory reports.
The Dillaha Food Company located in Little Rock, Arkansas was purchased and became the Little Rock Distribution Center.
1979 Upon his retirement after 50 years of service, Gaston Hallam left the company in the hands of his two capable sons. Robert Hallam became Chairman and CEO, while Howard Hallam became President and COO.
These two young men grew up with Ben E. Keith. They not only worked holidays and summer vacations, loading beer and produce trucks, making deliveries, handling sales calls, and developing management skills, they both attended the University of Texas at Austin earning law degrees.
With Gaston’s retirement as President of Ben E. Keith Company, the leadership reins for food operations were passed on to John Beauchamp, who became Vice Chairman of the Board.
Beauchamp had been hired by Erwin to operate the branch in Longview and after turning their lagging sales into profits; he was transferred to Dallas where he succeeded again at turning sales and profits around. After that he was once more transferred to the Fort Worth office to perform the same tasks. While in Fort Worth he ascended to the office of General Manager of the Produce Operations where he remained until he became President of Ben E. Keith Foods until his retirement in 1982.
1980 During the 1980s, Ben E. Keith Company began to reinvent itself, transitioning from a retail produce distributor to a “broad line” foodservice distributor. They streamlined food operations, developed new inventory lines and devised special marketing programs.
1981 Ben E. Keith Foods reached over $100 million in sales.
1983 The Johnston Fruit Company in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma was purchased and became the Oklahoma Distribution Center.
1987 Ben E. Keith Company purchased Mid-South Seafood in Little Rock, Arkansas.
1990 Over the years, the company’s leadership continued to make investments. The Kassner Distributing in San Antonio, Texas was purchased and became the San Antonio Distribution Center.
1991 Ben E. Keith purchased the ABC Distributing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which became the Albuquerque Distribution Center.
1993 Ben E. Keith Foods reached over $250 million in sales.
1998 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.
2000 The company continued to grow and develop into the profitable company we are 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.
2004 Ben E. Keith Foods reached over $1 billion in sales.
2005 The company’s presence in Kansas strengthened when the F & E Foodservice of Wichita, Kansas was purchased and now services customers in the Kansas market from a combined effort of Ben E. Keith's Amarillo and Oklahoma Distribution Centers.
2006 Growth and Expansion were the buzz words in 2006. Ben E. Keith 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.
2008 Ben E. Keith Beverages launches the Ben E. Keith Specialty Division
Today Ben E. Keith Foods is now the eighth largest broad-line distributor in the nation, with six distribution centers serving South Central USA - Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Tennessee, and Missouri. And, Ben E. Keith Beverage is the 4th largest beer distributor in the nation with distribution throughout Texas, and eleven operational distribution facilities and five remote sales offices.
Ben E. Keith Co.
- Beverage Industry magazine names Ben E. Keith Beverages Wholesaler of the Year
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-11-17. Retrieved 2011-11-09.
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-04-03. Retrieved 2011-11-03.
- While covering distribution throughout Texas, our eleven operational distribution facilities and five remote sales offices
- "Newly Discovered Bat Named for Donor". Texas Tech University. Archived from the original on 11 October 2012. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
- George D. Keith Family Papers, 1912-1977 and undated, in the Southwest Collection, Special Collections Libraries at Texas Tech University