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Oh can those Brooklyn boys roast coffee.

Brooklyn, one of the five New York City boroughs, is known for many entities; Coney Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers, but now the Brooklyn coffee roaster enters this renowned list, as a growing community of roasters move their operations there.

New York coffee roasters were once located mainly in lower Manhattan--on Greenwich Street and Washington Street on the lower west side, and on Front Street and Water Street on the lower east side. Coffee growth took off in the 1950's, but when city officials encouraged light industry to move to the outer boroughs, the Manhattan coffee community dispersed, scattering mainly to New Jersey and Brooklyn. Many companies did not survive the move.

Yet, Brooklyn is no stranger to coffee roasters. In the late 1800's the two largest coffee roasters in America--R. Buckle Brothers, and the A & P company--were found in that borough. Continental Terminals, the largest east coast warehousing/container facility for green coffee, is also located in Brooklyn.

Gillies Coffee Company

Donald Schoenholt, president of Gillies Coffee Company, describes his company as "a creature of habit." Gillies, a specialty coffee roaster, has been in business for seven generations--152 consecutive years. "We were the last of the old-time coffee houses to leave Manhattan," said Schoenholt, whose company recently relocated to Brooklyn.

Schoenholt, who grew up with the coffee trade in New York, describes his company's move to Brooklyn as a "necessity brought on by growth".

"Brooklyn became a logical choice for us, it put us back in a coffee community." Gillies' primary customer base is metro New York, particularly Long Island, Manhattan, and central and northern New Jersey, therefore their move to Brooklyn kept the company centrally located.

In the 1960's, Gillies made a decision to concentrate on the retail market. At that time, Gillies was operating a chain of coffee bean stores in New York City and a retail mail order business in addition to its wholesale coffee business. By the late 1970's, Gillies, with five retail stores in Manhattan, was the largest coffee bean retailer in the east at the time. This decision resulted in the closing of the company's central roasting facility and transferring coffee roasting to the retail stores themselves. This move made sense to Gillies at the time, said Schoenholt.

Eighteen years later, although Gillies is no longer is a retailer, over 200 of their products can be found in numerous retail stores throughout the U.S. The company, whose two basic customers are fine restaurants and specialty retailers, is currently expanding their new Brooklyn warehouse facilities. When finished in 1994, their 14,000 square feet of space will be a model specialty coffee facility.

Schoenholt, age 46, will shortly celebrate his thirtieth year at Gillies, bringing much success to his family business and stature to the speciality trade. Yet ironically, in the 1960's, when he was initially entering the business, his father was against it. According to his father, the age of good coffee was ending. He believed that, in homes, there would only be instant coffee and, in restaurants, instant would be used instead of fresh ground. How wrong he was!

From gourmet to specialty

When Schoenholt was a boy, his grandfather told him: "There are only two kinds of coffee, there's good coffee and there's bad coffee, and we make good coffee." By the time Schoenholt began working for his father, he told his son: "There are two kinds of coffee, there's good coffee and there's bad coffee, we made the good coffee and leave it to others to make the other kind." By 1970's, the coffee industry began to call the "good" coffee gourmet, said Schoenholt.

In 1978, a woman in the green coffee trade gave a talk to a coffee group in Europe. In her talk, Erna Knutsen referred to the coffee she dealt with as coffee "specialties." This was the first time the term "specialties" was used in reference to coffee, said Schoenholt. Within a short period of time, the name caught on. Throughout the 1980's, the term "gourmet" was used less and less, and the term "specialties" used more and more.

"In business you seek labeling that works for you," said Schoenholt, one of the founders of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. "Specialty coffee works."

"Consumers want more choices," he said, noting that even large companies like Maxwell House were forced to succumb to consumer preference, switching from a few products to a current product line that includes many more varieties.

"The history of specialty coffee is very much like the line of rock |n' roll song that goes, |Everything old is new again'." Blending by hand has replaced mass blending and roasting, and roasting small batches has replaced mass roasting.

Despite the name change from "gourmet" to "specialty", nothing has changed at Gillies Coffee Company. "There's good coffee and there's bad coffee, we sell the good kind," said Schoenholt.

Harry H. Wolfe and Sons Inc.

Harry H. Wolfe and Sons has not sold a single coffee bean in over 69 years of uninterrupted business. Not such an impressive record for a company to confess, but then Wolfe is no ordinary coffee company.

Wolfe, located in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, is what the coffee industry calls a "trade roaster". According to Scott Tauber, vice president, a trade roaster roasts, grinds and packs coffee. "We do not sell a single coffee bean," said Tauber. Customers, not possessing roasting facilities of their own, utilize all the services of Wolfe, with Wolfe roasting the coffee to their exact specifications.

Founded in 1923 by Harry Wolfe, the company is currently in its third generation of business. Originally located in Manhattan, the company moved to Brooklyn in 1971. The building Wolfe moved into, 383 Third Avenue, has a long history in coffee. Historically utilized by a coffee can manufacturer, the building is over 100 years old and was originally water-powered.

In Wolfe's modern equipped plant, the company has the ability to meet the needs of those customers catering to the OCS, vending, institutional, and restaurant trades--with packages ranging in size from pounds to ounces, in bean or ground form. Wolfe has the capacity to roast 30-35 tons of coffee a day. The company has six Therma-lo roasters, each having the capacity to roast 600 lbs of coffee at a time, approximately four bags, according to Tauber.

Hena Inc.

Hena Inc., a sister company of Harry M. Wolfe and Sons, is a speciality coffee roaster founded in 1974 by the Taubers. Though located in the same building as Harry H. Wolfe and Sons, the two companies are completely separate.

Originally, Hena supplied only gourmet beans. As consumer needs changed, the company branched out into packaging, supplying upscale markets, including restaurants and delis. Hena currently supplies any customers who wants to use packaged coffee as well as whole bean coffee, said Tauber. The company also does private label, and, according to Tauber, is looking to get into the foodservice industry.

Hena took advantage of the recent surge in flavored coffees. Flavors began to become popular during the last five years, starting with a limited amount of flavors. As the popularity and variety of flavored coffee expanded--from regular into decaffeinated coffees--Hena capitalized on the trend by increasing their flavor assortment.

Hena currently markets over 50 flavored coffees, the leader being Vanilla Nut, followed by Hazelnut, Irish Creme, and Chocolate Raspberry. Hena gets its flavors from Medallion Flavor Company in New Jersey, and flavors the coffee on location.

Freshness is extremely important to Hena. "What keeps our coffee different from others is that we flavor to order," said Tauber. Coffee starts to go stale as soon as it hits oxygen, explained Tauber, therefore Hena packages coffee for flavors separately in 5 lb. valve-lock bags.

Despite the current recession, Hena's volume has increased. Tauber believes this increase is due to the fact that quality has taken over today's coffee industry. "People are willing to spend more money for a better quality product."

"Years ago people just drank coffee," said Tauber. "Due to the recent trends and all the different coffee shops opening nationwide, people are realizing what good coffee is all about. Hena provides a quality product for people who want it."

Coffee Holding Company

Coffee Holding Company, established in 1971, is now in its third generation of family business. Located in close proximity to Wolfe and Gillies, Coffee Holding Company's main brand names include Cafe Caribe, Via Roma, Don Manuel, and Fifth Avenue. Coffee Holding is also a supplier of private label coffees to grocery chains, wholesalers, and foodservice distributors.

"Coffee Holding is a leading supplier of gourmet green coffee to the speciality trade," said Sterling Gordon, president of Coffee Holding Company. "We carry over 40 different varieties of coffee and will sell as little as one bag of any kind."

The company does all their manufacturing in their Brooklyn facility, located at 4401 First Avenue. With approximately 15 employees, the company's extensive product run is not a problem, according to Gordon.

Sterling's sons, Andrew and David, are integral parts of the business as vice president-green coffee, and vice president-speciality coffee, respectively. Sterling's daughter, Karen, is also a full-time employee of Coffee Holding, devoting, along with David, a significant portion of her time to cup testing, evaluation, and approving the many types of coffee utilized by the company. Karen is very unique in her occupation, as women are extremely rare in the coffee sampling field.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Boxman, Alyson R.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:May 1, 1992
Previous Article:Continental Terminals: not just any warehouse.
Next Article:Canada: Coffee Association caps first year.

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