In a pickle: Best Maid turns 90

Best Maid pickles

Mildred Dalton’s small pie-selling business in Mansfield 90 years ago was the start of one of Fort Worth’s largest companies.

Four generations later, BestMaid Products, known largely for its popular pickles, is looking at revenue of over $50 million this year, according to Noah Bass, the company’s vice president of operations and sales.

“The company’s growth really accelerated after building a larger warehouse in 1985,” Bass said. “We have also done multiple plant expansions each of the last four decades. The company’s sales have approximately doubled since 2000.”

And it all started with a small door-to-door business that actually had nothing to do with pickles. After making meringue for her pies, Dalton would have a lot of egg yolks left over, so she began using them to make mayonnaise and selling it at her husband Jesse’s grocery store in Fort Worth.

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The mayonnaise was a big hit. She then expanded her dressing line to include sandwich spread, which required relish.

The relish supplier raised its price, so Dalton got an idea. She began growing her own cucumbers to pickle the relish and had a bumper crop.

With the leftover pickles she began what became the company’s most popular product, particularly dill pickles and hamburger slices. Today, Bass said, pickles make up 95 percent of BestMaid‘s revenue. Its products include pickles, jalapenos, relish and dressings.

“We serve many Texas-based quick-serve restaurant chains and have extensive distribution at many key retailers such as H-E-B, Kroger, United, Brookshire’s, Albertson’s and Wal-Mart,” Bass said. “Our product varieties range in size from 8 ounces to 5 gallons, and from whole dill pickles to sliced bread-and-butter pickles.

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“We have the BestMaid brand in most of Texas, while we have a Houston-proper brand called Del Dixi in Southeast Texas. Overall, we produce approximately 140 different items in the BestMaid and Del Dixi brands.”

Gary Dalton, grandson of the founders, is the company’s current CEO. Brian Dalton, great grandson, is president. Chris Dalton, also a great grandson, is tank yard manager.

The Dalton family still owns the vast majority of the business, while a few other employees have minor ownership interest. Gary is 79, Brian is 47, and Chris is 51. Neither Brian nor Chris Dalton has children at present.

So where does that leave the line of family succession?

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“There is certainly the possibility that more Dalton heirs will be around to keep the company in the family, but in the event that there aren’t, I know that there are many employees in place now who truly feel like family,” Bass said. “BestMaid has a culture that encourages long-term employment, and I know that we have many young and talented employees who will be excited to carry us into the future.

“Our employees are truly who make us great, and they are the ones that have allowed us to achieve the level of success we have reached today. Thanks goes out to all of them, including many who have been here over 20 years.”

The future could include the addition of more products, Bass said. After all, innovation is always an important aspect in any business.

“While only about 40 percent of new items end up surviving long-term, those that are successful provide important incremental sales growth,” he said. “A great example is the jalapeno bread-and-butter pickle that we came out with nearly a decade ago. It was considered to be a bit of a fringe item when we introduced it, but now it is many people’s favorite item.

“Two new items we recently launched and are very excited about include a 24-ounce snappy garlic bite and a 16-ounce candied sweet chip.”

Over the years, the company’s expansion included taking over a popular brand in the Houston market, Del Dixi. Bass said they opted not to change the name and instead to capitalize on Houstonians’ loyalty to the product.

“Del Dixi was a company based in the Houston area who we were co-packing for in the 60s. They ran into a bit of financial difficulty and we had the opportunity to buy the brand and gain the distribution base, so we did,” he said. “Although the BestMaid and Del Dixi items are exactly the same products, made on the same line on the same day, native Houstonians swear that Del Dixi is a different and superior product, so we have chosen to keep the brands separate.

“Del Dixi also commands the number one dollar share among retailers in the Houston market, so we have good reason not to mess with a great brand.”

That kind of thinking is a large reason why the BestMaid company has grown steadily throughout its history. Bass said another reason has been that no one in the organization has ever forgotten that family always comes first and the family reputation is attached to each product.

“There is definitely a lot of pride taken by the Dalton family in making sure that they carry on the tradition of high quality products that was started by Jesse and Mildred Dalton,” Bass said. “Gary, Brian and Chris are all very passionate about the products that we produce and very involved in the process to make sure that quality never slips.”

The company’s logo features a cartoon girl named Smiley licking her lips. It was introduced in the 1960s, and legend has it that she was drawn by a BestMaid employee as a cute caricature of the founder’s granddaughter.

Today, Smiley is accompanied by the slogan, “It’s the taste that makes you smile.”

The company is also bringing smiles to at-risk and impoverished children through the Smiley Fund, which was started in 2013. Through the charitable program, the company is striving to improve the lives of many youngsters throughout the Dallas Fort Worth area with after-school programs of mentoring and tutoring. The fund also offers a partial scholarship to many students each year who participate in the program.

To help raise money for the Smiley Fund, the company created the Dill Dash 5K three years ago. While raising awareness, it also provides a fun activity, Bass said. Participants are encouraged to dress up in their favorite pickle-themed outfits and even enjoy some pickle juice after the race (it helps with leg cramps).

“The event continues to grow, and we raise more money each year for the fund, utilizing the proceeds to benefit children throughout Texas,” Bass said. “We were excited to donate enough money to Make a Wish Foundation this year to allow them to grant five wishes to Texas kids facing life-threatening illnesses.”

Bass noted that although the past nine decades have been a big success for the family, the company and the community, there is more to come. What made the company a hit for so long will continue to make it popular in the coming decades.

“People love a great product with Texas roots that is also family-owned,” he said. “Continuing to educate consumers to the superior quality and flavor of our product, while also educating them about the story of our Texas roots, is very important for our continued growth.

“We are taking strategic steps that will put us in position to be around for another 90 years and beyond.”

1401 S Riverside Dr.

Fort Worth 76104