Gulf Distributing Company’s 50-Year Legacy: Elliot Maisel Takes a Look Back and Ahead

Last Updated: May 3, 2024By

In 2023, Gulf Distributing Company marked a significant milestone as it celebrated its 50th anniversary. The Mobile-based, family-owned company also unveiled plans to refurbish and relocate to the former Press-Register building at 401 N. Water Street in downtown Mobile. Adding to its accolades, the company’s President and CEO, Elliot Maisel, was named Business Alabama’s CEO of the Year.


The Past

Gulf Distributing Company was established on December 19, 1973, by Freida G. Maisel, a Mobile native born into an immigrant family. Her mother was from Lithuania and her father was from the border between Poland and Russia.

After working as a school teacher for 25 years, she bought the assets of what had once been Jax Distributing Company. The company had been in business since 1935 and at the time had 15 employees and four trucks.

Her son and current CEO Elliot Maisel said, “She was the first child out of seven children that my grandfather ever let touch the cash register in his store and the first he sent to college. She had a business head. I never beat my mother in Scrabble. Never. Even in her 90s she was just smart. She was a steel magnolia. She was strong. She was able to lead by example with grace and charm. She immediately earned respect when we started Gulf Distributing Company.”

His father, Herman Maisel, was the one who initially found the opportunity to buy Jax Distributing Company. “My father was a dynamo. We wouldn’t have Gulf if it wasn’t for him. He had vision and he had courage. In our family story, it is well-known that he wanted to buy it. In Alabama and in most states, you cannot be a wholesaler and a retailer. He was a retailer. So, my mother bought the company and for that we are very thankful,” Maisel said with a smile.

 “Momma was very hand’s-on. When she bought the company, it changed the manner in which I attended The University of Alabama. I would come home as much as could in order to learn and help. I have been with Gulf Distributing Company since its inception but make no mistake that my mother was the boss. She was inspirational. My sister, daughter and nieces are like her. I’d love to say that I am like her, but I am not nearly as smart as she was. She was a great person.”


The Present

Today, Gulf Distributing Company represents more than a hundred suppliers and sells product to over 15-thousand retailers.

The leadership team at Gulf Distributing Company takes great pride that the business is headquartered in Mobile, Alabama. Maisel said, “I trademarked an expression many years ago: there’s north Alabama, south Alabama and the great state of Mobile. On the west side of the bay, we are a blue-collar city. We build littoral combat ships and airplanes. On the east side of the bay, we have a great resort community and beautiful beaches. The beauty of Mobile and Baldwin County is that people like to work, and they like to have a good time. We’re growing, both the city and the market. As my slogan indicates, we’re a little different than a lot of other places and it’s because of those differences that make it such a great place to be headquartered.”

Gulf Distributing Company deeply values its engagement in community events. From golf tournaments and shrimp festivals to barbecue cook-offs and charitable events, “You name it, we’re there,” said Maisel. He continued by saying, “We have products that people want to enjoy and they want us involved because we’re good at helping them.”

Maisel emphasized a big part of what makes Gulf Distributing Company unique is the employees. “Our employees are involved, driven, motivated and part of the heart and soul of the company that drives it forward.”

“We’re able to do it all because of the strength of the employees and the culture of the company set by my mother. ‘Do it. Make it work. Have a good time while we’re doing it.’ You know if you can’t have fun in the beer business then you can’t have fun in any business, right?” Maisel said with a shrug.

Elliot Maisel was honored to be named the 2023 CEO of the Year by Business Alabama. “The CEO of the Year award is one of the nicest things that has happened to me in my business life. It’s very flattering and very gratifying to have worked my whole life and have the recognition of my peers and the people of Alabama. I’m certainly very surprised,” Maisel said with a laugh. “It’s certainly very easy to be CEO of a group of people like this. We truly work as a team. This award brings good pride to our company, our employees and the city.”

His advice for the next generation coming up, “There’s a lot of opportunity in the world now for young people. Through the internet and AI and all the technological advancements. However, never forget the power of good old-fashioned elbow grease. If you are not willing to take chance, then you’re probably not going to go forward. You’ve got to act on your instinct. Make a plan, then plan your work and work your plan. Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you, which is what I have done at Gulf Distributing to make me look good,” he said with a laugh.


The Future

The next 50 years looks just as bright as the first 50 years of Gulf Distributing Company. The company announced its plans to move into what Mobilians call the “new old Press-Register building” at the intersection of Water Street and Beauregard Street. “It’s a landmark in Mobile. It’s really beautiful but it’s an oddball building though. It was built with a specific purpose in mind.”

The Press-Register originally stood on Government Street and then moved to the building on Water Street. It was built with the purpose of printing and distributing a local newspaper. Maisel said, “It’s a tough building to figure out and convert to commercial use. We felt like it would make a statement for our company. We would be the catalyst for bringing not only about 300 of our people downtown but because there is space to lease in the office building, we could end up employing 600 to 700 new people in downtown Mobile.”

The purchase of the building was an act of gratitude to the city of Mobile. The Maisel family is very proud of the company and proud of the fact it is a Mobile company. Maisel said, “You know economically it probably wasn’t the smartest thing I have ever done. I could have just stood up a little warehouse somewhere and had the land right next door to me, but we want to pay back the city of Mobile. That’s one little thing we can do. The city has been good to my family. We appreciate the support from the community, the Chamber and the city.”

The leadership team at Gulf Distributing Company has made a large investment back into the company. Maisel said, “You know the world has changed quite a bit from the recession to the pandemic. Those circumstances combined with the growth of Mobile and the growth of our company brought the need for a revamp.”

A recommendation was made from the senior management team that includes Maisel’s three children, that capital improvements and investments were needed and capital investments in the employees and positions. They have added positions at the corporate level and have added positions within each operating distributorship. “We decided that we were strong enough to invest what we consider to be a lot of money. In just the new positions, pay structure and earning opportunities, we are going to invest a minimum of $10 million a year. Over and above that will be fleet, equipment and buildings. It’s a major investment for a company of our size but I’m really excited about it. Where else would you invest besides in your own company and in your own people?” said Maisel.

The love and pride for Gulf Distributing Company is evident when hearing Elliot Maisel speak about the company.

Maisel said, “Gulf Distributing Company is a hell of a company. It’s a hell of a company because of the people who work here. We have a civic mission and we have a business mission. Although we are in our fifty-first year, we are just getting started. I hope that in the next 50 years we are known as being involved, caring, charitable and salt-of-the-earth people. My children now are infusing their values into Gulf Distributing Company to help it grow in the next 50 years.”

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