We, like many people, want to work for something greater than business success and profit. We want to do better than merely shipping boxes to our customers and giving paychecks to our employees. Impacting people’s lives for good means making a more holistic, fruitful and lasting contribution, in big or small ways, to the lives of everyone we touch through our work. Of course, this is easier said than done, and we often fall short. That’s how we know we’re setting our sites high enough, and it makes us hungry to improve.

The business of providing food has never-ending opportunities to positively impact others. We love supporting the front lines – the chefs and restaurateurs – in this effort, and making contributions to ensure their success.


TRUTH: Doing what is right before God and others with transparency, discernment, and compassion.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Encouraging innovation and embracing change with energy.



A story of a 130-year heritage of entrepreneurship shaped by integrity, and enabled by God’s grace. As told by the 4th generation:

As I consider all the experiences of our previous generations in building this brand, I see a simple lesson.  

The food business is a very hard business,  but when you work with passion for a higher purpose, it is also a very rewarding business.

Recalling the stories I heard growing up, I can see a willingness in each generation to embrace change with energy while still holding on to core values.

This is the story of where we came from, and where we’re going. In some ways, it may not be very different from your own. Read More >

Read Less >

In 1885, the year the Statue of Liberty was built, my great grandfather, John Henry Pate founded our company. As a young man in his 20’s, his early attempts at farming had failed and he decided to seek other opportunities to earn a living through food. So he opened a retail store in downtown Goldsboro called J.H. Pate Grocery. A decade or so later, as more retail competition sprang up, he transitioned into a produce wholesaler and distributor to grocery stores. This was before automobiles were widely used, so transportation was by horse and wagon.

When he passed his small, healthy company to his three sons and son-in-law, Bill Dawson in 1923, they renamed it Pate-Dawson Company Wholesale: Groceries, Fruits and Produce. During the 1920’s and early in the Great Depression, these four men conducted business by train across Eastern NC. They would ride the trains to visit customers and take orders, then load the orders on the same routes the next day to make their deliveries. By entrepreneurship and grit, they emerged on the other side of the Depression ready for growth with a state of the art distribution center, a small fleet of delivery trucks and a team of salesmen.

Back then, refrigerated transportation didn’t exist. The first delivery refrigeration consisted of open panel trucks with ice and canvas on the product. The next generation of “refrigerated” trailers had holes in the front of the trailer so the wind passing through would keep the produce (and ice) cool.

Bananas became a competitive advantage in the 1940’s and 50’s because they required special technology for refrigeration. Pate-Dawson built cutting-edge “banana ripening rooms” that few others had.

In the third generation, my uncle Mike Pate Jr. faced a new set of challenges as independent grocery stores were driven out by the surge of national chain stores in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Discerning the fate of the retail grocery industry, Mike managed a complete transformation of the business model, from produce wholesaler to primarily a school foodservice distributor, within a decade. This required adding frozen storage, changing 90% of the products and 100% of the customer base. It was one of the most dramatic changes in the company’s history.

At the turn of its first century in business, now with new capabilities including a new distribution center in Goldsboro, the company began pivoting toward a new direction for success. By the time Uncle Mike handed me the baton in the mid-90’s, we began serving independent and local chain restaurants. Since then, our vision has been to become the most well-equipped and finely-tuned distributor to serve the chefs and restaurateurs of our region.

Over the last decade, we have made many changes to bring us closer to realizing that vision. The purchase of fellow family-owned distributor Southern Foods in 2010 brought us some of the finest specialty products from all over the world and helped us develop a depth and variety of local products of which we are proud. It also gave us a unique set of capabilities including hand-cutting meats, seafood, and cheeses to order. Since then, we have added a Product Specialist Team to grow our relationships with local and specialty suppliers and develop the most high-quality, relevant products to fuel your inspiration. Our Business Specialist Team was created to support our customers with operational insights and in-depth business services to support their profitability.

In September 2016 we joined the Cheney Brothers family, another 4th generation family-owned distributor out of Florida. Cheney will add resources, products, and their experience to help Pate Dawson Company continue to grow, to meet our customers’ needs and to impact people’s lives for good.

Now, it feels like everything in our history has led us to this moment. We are rooted in a region that is legendary for its food and cooking traditions. We are excited to get out of bed every morning and serve our growing customer base. We have the capabilities and singular focus to adapt to our customers’ desires, and our people are passionate about the purpose which drives us.

Our opportunity is to impact people’s lives in a greater way than ever before by pouring all that we are and all that we have to offer into the relationships with our customers — to see them grow and succeed. It’s an opportunity I look forward to fulfilling with the next generations of the Pate Dawson and Cheney Brothers families.




  • JH Pate

    1st Generation

  • Micah Pate

    2nd Generation

  • Ezra Pate

    2nd Generation

  • Victor Pate

    2nd Generation

  • Bill Dawson

    2nd Generation

  • Mike Pate Jr

    3rd Generation

  • Malcolm

    Sullivan Sr

    3rd Generation

  • Malcolm

    Sullivan Jr

    4th Generation


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