Aug 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By David A Kolman
Growing up, Keany, like his three brothers - Dan, Chris and Ted, helped in his father's business, a contracting firm to the government for custodial services. As this business was drastically changing, and opportunities were not as plentiful, Keany decided to look for another industry to work in. Taking a summer off from school, he landed a job as a commissioned salesman at a produce company in downtown Washington, DC.
“I was told I didn't need any training,” recalls Keany. “I was given a price sheet and sent out to make sales calls. My boss told me to go anywhere people eat, because if they eat there, they're a potential customer.”
Keany did this for a couple of years, getting to know a lot of suppliers and gaining significant experience. “It was a small company so I got to do a little bit of everything.”
At one point he felt he could do things a little better and decided to start his own company. His father, Pat, loaned him some money to start a business.
Working out of his house in DC, with an answering machine and a van, Keany founded Keany Produce. He bought from wholesalers and delivered fresh fruits and vegetables in the area. As a result of working very long hours and a commitment to handling only quality produce, personal attention, and honest dealing, the business flourished.
The timing for getting into the produce business was right, notes Keany. Many of the area's more successful produce companies were owned and operated by immigrant families, and they had set their children up to be professionals like lawyers and doctors. Not many of the next generation had any real desire to get into the produce distribution business.
“There was some real opportunity for young blood in this business, and we were aggressive,” Keany says. “People knew that we were hustlers and that we did what we said we would do.”
He moved his operation into a small warehouse in Northeast DC and kept expanding his service territory. In time, his brothers and father joined him in the business. Consistently capturing a larger share of the market, Keany Produce began buying direct from growers, wholesalers, and brokers nationwide. It now has eight outside and 20 inside sales representatives.
Keany Produce outgrew the facility in Northeast DC, moving three times before settling into a 49,000-sq-ft facility in Landover, Maryland, in 1998. It soon outgrew that facility and bought a building on six acres of land across the street.
That building, also 49,000 square feet, was completely renovated and enlarged to nearly double in size, designed especially for Keany Produce's operation. Much of the land was cleared and ample parking space was created for fleet and employee parking.
The investment made it one of the largest and most technologically advanced facilities in the Mid-Atlantic region, says Keany Produce general manager Dana Rolander.
Eight separate customized climate-controlled zones each use Bohn Refrigeration systems, where all items are maintained at their optimum temperature and humidity. The zones range from 33° to 50°F.
Three Bohn HeatCraft pressurized ripening rooms house such items as bananas, mangoes, and avocados to help ensure peak ripeness.
“All zones and rooms are electronically controlled and monitored,” Rolander says. “The whole system is web accessible, so temperatures can be accessed offsite anytime.”
Some 5,000 square feet of the warehouse is devoted to the company's Keany Kuts customized fresh-cut processing operation. Begun in 1991, it employees 92 people and runs 24 hours a day on four shifts to precut fruits and vegetables and package them into five-pound vacuum-sealed bags.
“This saves chefs a lot of time and labor,” Keany explains, “because they can just open a bag instead of having to peel, cut, and slice.”
The pioneer of the operation was the company's Jorge Paredes, who now serves as Keany Kuts production manager. “He had a lot of experience with vegetables and precut,” says Rolander, a brother-in-law to the Keany family. “We got him some additional training and he took it from there, building up the fresh-cut operation. He's our pre-cut guru.
“Some of the best chefs in our area will come out and work with Jorge to design a specialty cut just for them.”
The operation does regular and classic type cuts, as well as custom creations and blends. These are done by special automated cutting machines and by hand cutting. It also creates fruit and vegetable platters.
Keany Kuts was born out of a request by a customer who wanted to know if the company could send him pre-cut vegetables, Keany says.
Disposing of the byproduct and wastes of the cutting operation, along with any “bad” produce, had been a challenge for the company. It was costly to haul this material to landfills.
One of Keany Produce's long-time customers suggested that it contact area farmers to see if they wanted the material for livestock feed. The company now has an arrangement with a pig and cattle farmer on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
The waste is pumped into a 28-foot Dorsey dump trailer with a hydraulic and hauled to the farmer every day, says Rolander, and “the animals love it. They've come to associate the noise of our delivery truck with food. As soon as they hear our truck, they start squealing and mooing, and begin moving to the feed troughs where we unload.
“It's a very cost effective and environmentally friendly way for us to get rid of our waste.”
Another business adjunct that came about by customer request, Keany says, is the delivering of kitchen staples.
“Because we deliver perishable products six days a week, we've become a conduit for other companies that handle perishables that want to get away from the smaller deliveries. They would rather consolidate and partner with us to handle their smaller accounts.”
As a result, Keany Produce is now handling such additional products as eggs, juice, milk, bottled water, cider, pickles, and sour cream.
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