Shaheen Bros. Inc.

Delivering local flavor in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Sean O'Reilly

The Shaheen family has been involved in the food business since the 1920s, when family patriarch Peter Shaheen established a small, single-proprietor produce business in Lawrence, Mass. Initially, Peter began working in the local neighborhoods, selling fresh fruits and vegetables from a horse-drawn cart. He worked alongside his sons for several years before two of them incorporated Shaheen Bros. Inc. (Shaheen) in November 1940. The company will celebrate its 75-year anniversary in 2015.

It is evident the family takes great pride in maintaining the company’s reputation as a well-respected local family-owned business. Fred Shaheen, Peter’s grandson and president of Shaheen, now proudly leads the company. Fred’s cousin and partner, also named Peter Shaheen, is the company’s CFO. Furthermore, Paul Shaheen, Fred’s brother and COO of Shaheen, as well as other family members, make up the approximately 60 employees, who steer the company from a headquarters in Amesbury, Mass,

“We consider this the second generation of business, although our family has a long history in the industry,” Peter explains. “Shaheen started out as primarily a produce business. Over time, based on the needs of our customers, we have evolved to a broad line food service distributor.”

Shaheen serves customers in three states. The company’s geographic footprint encompasses northeast Massachusetts, southern Maine and southern New Hampshire. “We don’t attempt to compete in Boston proper,” Peter explains. “There are enough businesses covering the territory there. From a logistics point of view, our territory makes more sense.”

Foodie supply

The company’s target market is independent owner-operated operations, primarily restaurants. Approximately 65 percent of the company’s revenue comes through eateries, while the rest is spread between health care facilities, bakeries, caterers, schools and country clubs.

“We serve a lot of local, independent companies that have been around for a while,” Peter elaborates. “A lot of the areas we serve are foodie towns, such as Portsmouth, Newburyport and Portland. These locations have a strong local food culture, which fits our niche well.”

Shaheen is partnered with UniPro, a national food service distribution cooperative. “We’ve been with them since 1974 and we were one of the first to join the cooperative,” Fred notes. “At that time, it was called CODE. From an independent distributor point of view, this partnership helped us become competitive with the mega distributors.”

The team also works closely with local suppliers. For example, the business sells processed meat products from Old Neighborhood Quality Foods, based in Lynn, Mass., as well as mayonnaise and other condiments from Cains Foods in Ayer, Mass.

“We try to do business with as many local manufacturers as we can,” Peter elaborates. “On the produce side, we have a lot of options with local growers.”

Working closely with a network of reliable strategic partners, Shaheen strives to fill market demands. “We are always taking on new products,” Peter explains. “We offer a lot of gluten-free food. Organic is a growing trend, although that can be expensive for food service. We are seeing more special requests, particularly in these segments of the business, as restaurants work to accommodate their customers.”

Shaheen Bros. Inc.

Growth mode

Shaheen has established a strong niche in the market working with independent customers. “These restaurants, bakeries and delis are the backbone of our business,” says Peter. “That is where we see our growth. Larger chains tend to be serviced by the large national distributors. In our region, though, we are fortunate, because chain restaurants are not as popular as elsewhere in the country.”

Shaheen is well-synced with customer needs, a factor that has kept the team moving ahead over the years. “While the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 saw consumers cut back on luxury expenses, such as eating out at restaurants, the situation has now changed,” says Peter. “People have started going out to eat again. We are fortunate in that the areas we serve people are very food-oriented and the consumer is once again frequenting local independent eateries, which has led to the company’s steady growth over the last several years.”

Peter and Fred take great pride in their team; Shaheen employs a number of people with food service backgrounds. A strong knowledge of the culinary industry helps the company better serve customers. “They speak the same language as our customers,” Peter explains. “We want them to consider their work here a good experience. Many of our employees have been with us for a long time. We want to provide them with good jobs and security.”

Shaheen’s employees work hard from top to bottom. Peter is proud to note that the managerial team values customer experience as much as hardworking employees on the lower rungs of the company ladder. This strong work ethic and dedication to service have helped the business grow over the years. The team recently added a new state-of-the-art, energy-efficient 15,000-square-foot freezer to the company’s facilities. Shaheen Bros. Inc. is looking ahead to steady continued growth in the coming years.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Esbenshade Farms
General Truck Center, Inc.
Peoples United Bank
Skaff Refrigeration