SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. — Cumberland Farms can trace its humble roots all the way back to a small dairy farm in Cumberland, RI. Today, it is the largest privately-owned gas retailer and convenience store chain in the Northeast, led by a company president and chief operating officer who calls Southborough home.
That president, Ari Haseotes, spoke about the company’s history at the Southborough Library on Thursday as part of the library’s "Inside Story" speaker series.
"It’s pretty humbling to realize where we came from," Haseotes said. In 1939, his grandparents—Greek immigrants who spoke limited English and had little formal education—began selling milk door-to-door in rural Cumberland.
"My grandmother was really the driving force," Haseotes said. "She had an energy and an aggressiveness and a desire to be successful."
The milk business worked out well, and in 1956 the family opened it’s first store in Bellingham, Massachusetts. The company continued to grow and, in 1971, opened it’s first branch with a gas station. In 1986 it acquired Gulf Oil as a subsidiary. Today, the company runs approximately 600 stores in 11 state and employees roughly 6,300.
There have been ups and downs over the years. The business of fuel, as Haseotes put it, "is about the most rotten business to be in," where retailers must contend with razor-thin profit margins. And hazards come in all forms: Twenty years ago, the company bought a Canadian oil refinery and ended up in bankruptcy as a result.
However, Haseotes said the company has since come back stronger, and he spoke optimistically about plans for the future. Looking at it’s distant past for guidance, he said, Cumberland Farms is moving toward a different product mix, including more fresh food. "Having started as a dairy and having built the customer’s trust in fresh milk, we wanted to leverage off of that."
Haseotes has deep Southborough ties—his family moved here when he was two, and he attended Fay Elementary School and St. Mark’s School. After leaving to attend Boston College and, later, Harvard Business School, Haseotes joined the company and worked his way up from managing the stocks of soda fountain syrup. Of his 40 family members, he is the only one involved in the company.
Today, he lives in Southborough again. In fact, he’s not too far from Southborough’s own Cumberland Farms branch on Route 9.
"It was special for me to put the store in, because it’s close by my home," he said.
"This is one meeting that I absolutely cleared my calendar for," said Southborough Board of Selectman Chairman John Rooney, who spoke briefly before Haseotes.
Calling the history of Cumberland Farms a "classic American story," Rooney encouraged residents to support the company, particularly the Southborough branch.
"This is a company with a face," he said. "This is a company that absolutely cares about the community it operates in."