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Third-Generation Family Firm, ELJ Inc., Thrives Through Diversification

Tue February 26, 2013 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

Any former chicken farmer will tell you, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

That is why ELJ Inc. has diversified its operations to year-round service with a portfolio that includes a history of building some of the most noteworthy roads and road projects in New England and thousands of homes as well.

This all started when Everett T. Francis — the father of three sons — founded Francis Brothers Inc. in Bristol, R.I., in 1946. Everett had been a chicken farmer before entering World War II, where he became a decorated hero, receiving the Purple Heart, among other awards. He also was in charge of communications in the Army — a land radio dispatcher who directed naval firearms on seven different islands.

?“Everett’s father Frank Francis had come from Portugal and purchased land in Bristol and the family became chicken and vegetable farmers. When Everett returned from the war, he founded Francis Brothers Inc.,” said Everett’s son Christopher, now the third generation involved in the family business. “Everett, my father, and his two brothers, went into the trucking business. My grandfather Frank bought his sons three Ford F8 trucks, dump trucks, and with those trucks, the three brothers, my father and uncles, helped to build the Maine Turnpike.”

As time went on, family patriarch Frank, who had purchased quite a bit of real estate in town, started to sell surplus materials from the land and started to sub-divide various properties; selling lots and parcels, building roads and building houses to sell. This led to the family beginning a realty company called Francis Realty which traces its start back to the end of the World War.

The family business diversified before the term “diversification” was even coined.

“My father-in-law Everett and his brothers also built a golf course in Bristol, named The Bristol Golf Club Inc., which we own,” said Christopher’s wife Patricia of a popular nine-hole course that runs through the heart of the town. Patricia met Christopher when she bartended at the club in the 1980s.

Three Noble Sons

?Patriarch Frank’s future foundation for building was laid with solid bricks, in still another diversification of the original company.

While still young men working at their original company Francis Brothers Inc. in the 1940s and 50s, brothers Everett, Louis and Joseph began a house building business with a brick Crete machine.

“They created their own bricks and were the first in the area to build houses with bricks. The company grew. When my grandfather bought the land, it developed into house building after realty selling,” added Christopher. “They began by developing their own land and eventually built more than 3,000 homes in the area including Bristol, Warren and Portsmouth, R.I. and Fall River, Swansea, Somerset, Dighton and Rehoboth, Mass.”

In 1966, 20 years after Francis Brothers started, Everett established a new name, ELJ Inc., with his two brothers Louis and Joe. Everett’s two sons, Kevin and Christopher began working in the family business out of high school in the 1980s and have expanded it to include many other facets of the construction and land development industry. Everett’s wife Theresa also was an intricate part of the family business starting in 1959.

While maintaining the golf course, the new generation formed a drilling and blasting corporation, ABlast Inc., in 1989, as well as operating Francis Realty which handles 90-plus rental units. Even further diversification came with the foundation of their crushing business that manufactures and sells stone and recycled materials, called ELJ Materials Inc., founded and expanded in the mid-1990s.

“We sell several types of mulch, sand, screened loam, compost loam and stone to contractors as well as the general public. We do all types of site and utility work and plow snow for the state of Rhode Island. We have diversified the business so that it is a productive, year-round corporation,” said Christopher.

Those year-round services include excavation, installation of site utilities, septic systems, demolition work, pool digging, drilling and blasting, residential and commercial subdivisions and draining systems (infiltrations, infrastructure), hydro-seeding, portable crushing and hydraulic hammering.

“My wife Patricia joined ELJ Inc. in 1990 and manages the office and financial duties,” said Christopher. “My son Casey, who is 14, has taken a keen interest in the business and would like to take over some day after college. He already operates a six-yard loader, excavators and backhoes and farm tractors. He works on Saturdays and all school vacations. His twin brother Christopher also is interested, but focuses on sports more at this point in his life.”

Beyond this new fourth generation of the family in operation, the company has maintained an average of 15 to 20 employees each year, seasonally, for 66 years.

Through the last decade, two employees have been outstanding in their work: Danny Cheatom, a foreman who has been with ELJ Inc. for more than 10 years and Fred Hipolito, the company’s mechanic/foreman who has been with the company for 10 years.

“Both are loyal and excellent employees,” said Christopher.

Many Familiar Sites

ELJ Inc. has worked on site, excavating and building, some of the more familiar buildings in the region, including: Walgreens, Bristol, R.I.; People’s Credit Union, Bristol, R.I.; Island Self-Storage, Portsmouth, R.I.; and work around Raytheon Corporation, Portsmouth, R.I.

The company also has been subcontracted for many builders, including: several demolitions for Butera Building and Design in Barrington, R.I.; several site jobs for Andrew Tiplady Builders of Barrington; building the road named Casey Drive, Bristol, for Jackson and Pacheco Builders; constructing White Tail Drive, Bristol for Douglas Gablinski Builders; several jobs in Rhode Island for Greenwich Bay Developers; and excavation of Gunite Pools for Hendricks Pools in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

They have worked as far away as Maine and Connecticut, hundreds of miles away from their headquarters.

On all these many jobs over the past seven decades, safety has been of paramount importance.

“We hold MSHA training for all of our miners when they are hired and we provide a refresher course yearly for our existing employees,” said Christopher. “We also send them to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10. We make sure that they are up-to-date on their CPR and first aid safety every two years.”

?The precautions have worked for all of these years.

“We have not had any major injuries. We are very concerned about the health and welfare of our employees and we make sure that they follow company procedures at all times,” added Patricia.

A stellar record of finished work at easily recognizable and well-traveled places, and word of mouth through contractors, home owners and town officials gets ELJ Inc. most of its work.

“We have a reputation for providing excellent service. We are very accommodating. We have fair prices, but the work always gets done on time and with excellent quality,” added the couple. “We have received words of praise after the jobs have been done, due to our employees and our neat and clean and precise work,” said Patricia. “We are very well diversified and we are capable of doing all of these trades in-house with subbing out very little work. Our staff is well-trained and knowledgeable of all phases of site, materials, maintenance and development.”

The company holds drainlayers licenses in several cities in Rhode Island and Massachusetts that come in handy.

“Often, we are called for jobs because we hold these licenses and have a great reputation. In Rhode Island, we hold them in Barrington, Bristol, Cumberland, East Providence, Lincoln, Middletown, Pawtucket, West Warwick, and Warren. In Massachusetts, Dighton, Rehoboth, Swansea and Fall River,” said Christopher.

Mattresses as Tools

ELJ Inc.’s team is nothing, if not innovative, especially when the job might be a blast.

“Many blasting jobs have been intricate. For example, a Newport mansion where we blasted underneath the kitchen floor using bed mattresses, blasting for improvements on several gas stations next to existing gas tanks, and blasting for an elevator shaft in an existing structure in New Bedford, Mass.,” said Christopher.

“We completed a job for Berkshire Wilton LLP, Wilton, Conn. It was a $6 million summer home. We completed all site work, including two septic systems, driveway, walkways, all excavation and utilities. The job began in 2010,” Christopher said,

“Access to the project was difficult. It was a private road with narrow access to the site, and it was difficult to mobilize large construction equipment around time restrictions set forth by fellow neighbors,” he added. “We had to be accommodating to all residents.”

Giving Back

ELJ Inc. also is in the forefront of charity work.

“We donate to the Gloria Gemma (Breast Cancer) Foundation, St. Philomena’s School, Bristol Fourth of July Committee, Bristol Police for cyber-bulling and the D.A.R.E. program, and the Bristol Police I.B.P.O. Local 304, King Phillip Little League and Bristol Youth Wrestling, and to Mt. Carmel Church for their annual touch-a-truck fundraiser,” said Patricia, who organizes much of this work.

“We also have donated to the Rhode Island Veterans home in honor of my father Everett, who passed away in February 2011,” added Christopher.

“We have donated trucks and trailers every year to the Bristol Fourth of July Committee for various floats. This year, we donated an extra truck and trailer to the Gloria Gemma Foundation to raise the awareness of breast cancer in the East Bay. This foundation is especially close to my heart, because my wife Patty was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2012,” continued Christopher. “We are also very concerned about the youth in our community, and this is why we continue to donate to the local Little League, Mt. Carmel Church and, most importantly, the Bristol Police Department.”

For more information, go to or call 401-253-9696.

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