Pull quote: “There were so many times we wanted to give up, but part of me couldn’t.” Stephanie says of their early days. “My father used to say, “If you have a tiger by the tail, don’t let it go.”
It’s a rare person who can look glamorous in a powder-blue paper hairnet, (matching her powder-blue eyes). Stephanie Hernan, CEO of Yankee Trader Seafood is that rare person. Just back from a mind-opening trip to India, and off to Florida for a short winter break, we caught the CEO in a still moment at her new headquarters in Hingham. We wanted to know how she came to helm her women-owned, second-generation family business. Her story is wonderful. A testament to focus, will and family pride.
Stephanie’s father, Gerry McAdams, started Yankee Trader Seafood in the 1970s. He was a Cohasset chef, and crab cakes were his signature, using his own proprietary blend of herbs and spices.
Originally, Gerry worked out of his home kitchen. As the business caught on, he moved his operation to a commissary. At first, the accounts were small local restaurants and retail stores, like Mullaney’s in Cohasset and Scituate, and The British Relief in Hingham. The business grew rapidly.
And then, only five years after his wife had passed away, Gerry McAdams passed quickly too. Stephanie and her three sisters were bereft. Young women who had lost both parents. Stephanie and her sister Lisa decided to pick up the mantle and build the Yankee Trader brand. Today, Yankee Trader has annual sales of over $25 million and counts as its customers most of the major supermarket chains in New England as well as many smaller specialty stores, restaurants, and caterers.
Right after Gerry’s passing, Stephanie, who says she is not a “food person” and had no background in food other than growing up around it – decided to use her CPA and her accounting background and began to grow the business. Her sister Lisa Hellar came on board with her. And grow it they did. (Two other McAdams’s sisters – one in Indiana, another in Florida did not join the company.)
Picking up where their father had left off, the two sisters had a lot to learn as seafood entrepreneurs. “We did not see it coming,” Stephanie says. Both parents gone before the sisters were barely out of their twenties. Working mothers with small children! Relying at first on their father’s recipes, they added fish cakes, crab Rangoon, bacon-wrapped scallops and other seafood appetizers to extend the product line.
As the sisters became the owners, they realized that they had become pioneers as women-owners in a very male-centric field. The seafood and the supermarket business, Stephanie explains is a “man’s world,” and it was not especially welcoming to two young girls, who Stephanie admits, “knew nothing. Eventually the men took pity on us,” and helped the sisters as they grew their business to include sales to larger supermarket chains like Stop & Shop and Market Basket.
Today, in 2023, there are still only a small handful of women in the seafood business, and fewer still who own and run certified Women-Owned businesses. “To begin with, people thought we were a joke,” recalls Stephanie. Today, no one laughs at their success.
As a child, Stephanie was one of those picky eaters, a kid who could subsist on Doritos and ravioli. Seafood was not her thing. While her tastes are adventurous now, she is still a businessperson, not a “food person.” She knew she couldn’t be the recipe tester when new items were added to the mix, so she brought in the professionals to ensure that Yankee Traders expanded product line would be a crowd-pleasing success. “I think my father would be proud of us.”
Though today they live in Norwell, Stephanie and her husband, Tom Hernan, both grew up in Cohasset. Tom’s father was a Cohasset firefighter and Tom, following in his father’s trade, became a Scituate fireman. Once he retired, Tom came to work at Yankee Trader Seafood as well. Their son, Alex Hernan and his young family live next door.
“It’s just the best,” glows Stephanie. “I get to see my grandchildren every day,” a huge grin lighting her blue eyes. The Hernans still own the 558 Beechwood home overlooking Wompatuck's Aaron River Reservoir where Tom grew up, and they are often at that property, walking and enjoying the beauty of the Cohasset scenery.
The business launched in Gerry McAdams home kitchen now has a third generation.
Stephanie’s son and daughter each have their own, health-conscious frozen product lines. Under the name "AliMags Creative Cuisine," son Alex, who works as Vice President for the company, has launched a line of all-natural, gluten-free, kid-friendly food such as Buffalo Chicken rolls. "You can feed it to your kids, and not wonder, what chemicals are in this?" he says.
Daughter Emma Hernan, a cast-member of Netflix’s Selling Sunset, recently launched her own vegan Mini-Beef Empanadas. The new additions to the Yankee Trader family are popular and selling well at local supermarkets.
The Hernan kids grew up in the Yankee Trader business. Daughter Emma did in-store supermarket demos with her mother from the time she was 10 years old. For Stephanie to see her children join the business is a great joy. “They didn’t grow up rich and they know they have to work to make their own way, just as I did,” she asserts. And quite possibly the family business will prosper into a fourth generation, she muses, as she describes watching her two small grandchildren, Alex, 4, and Maggie, 2, take boxes off the assembly line just as her own children did.
“There were so many times we wanted to give up, but part of me couldn’t,” Stephanie says of their early days. “My father used to say, “If you have a tiger by the tail, don’t let it go.” Would their father be proud? We think he’d be bursting with pride.