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The Lion Coffee saga.

The Lion Coffee Saga

If you've hung around coffee for awhile, you have sooner or later made the acquaintance of a large facsimile poster of a jovial king of beasts enjoying a cup of his personal brew LION COFFEE, "The cup that cheers but not inebriates." Perhaps you admired the graphics without knowing that they were part of the first great advertising campaign in history. Maybe you thought it represented just another old brand long consigned to the dustbin of trade history. You might even fancy a copy for your office wall, as did Herb Goldstein, some years ago. The chances are that you passed onto other things without giving the old cat much thought.

But wait!!

The old boy lives. And there's a lilt to his step these days too. He's found a new lease on life, thanks to some folks out in Hawaii, and the specialty coffee entrepreneurial ideal. Come, and I will tell you the Lion's tale.

It was back in 1864 that L.B. Shattucck established, at No. 58 Summit Street, Toledo, Ohio a new coffee roasting and spice grinding business. He was able to secure C.C. Warren as a partner. Shattuck went on the road selling, while Warren stayed in Toledo seeing to the factory.

The enterprise prospered and by the mid-70's under the style C.C. Warren & Co., their goods were to be found throughout the burgeoning Northwest. A pamphlet of the day boasts, "Eight Thousand Pounds of Coffee roasted in our establishment PER DAY month in and month out." The interesting point for scholars of the trade, though, is something appearing in smaller type on the same page, "It is sold only in one pound papers." This makes the Warren brand of Lion Coffee both a pioneer in the roasted coffee trade and an early entrant, along with predecessor Lewis A. Osborn's Celebrated Prepared Java Coffee, in the effort to establish a brand-name packaged roast coffee as well.

It was during this time, in the 70's that the style of the business changed to Warren & Biwell. Shattuck is heard from no more, and La Monte C. Bidwell succeeds as a partner in the firm. It is in this form that the Lion Brand company continues until 1882.

Alvin M. Woolson was born in Huron Ohio, October 5, 1840 (always considered a good year for coffee in this office). Brought-up by foster parents, the boy did his share of farm labor, attending school only during the three winter months of the year. He worked in a country store, and later took a turn as a printers devil for the Sandusky Register. At the outbreak of the Civil War young Alvin enlisted in the First Regiment, Ohio Volunteers. In the course of the War, he received as appointment as Sergeant Major, of Artillery, in the Army of the Patomac.

In the aftermath of the war, Woolson moved west with the Union Pacific Railroad of E.H. Harriman, working in the capacity of accountant. In later years he recounted that among his duties was to ward off Indian attacks. With his feelings of wonderlust fullfilled and the railroad complete, Woolson moved back to Ohio where he clerked in a country store for a year prior to making the decision to set up for himself which he did, in the town of Wauseon with a capital of $125.00. He subsequently courted and married Francis (Frankie) Tillinghast and settled in Toledo in 1875. There he opened a grocery store on Adams Street near 12th.

There were opportunities for a fellow with ambition, and a grubstake, in the wholesale grocers trade and Alvin Woolson was not a man to let grass grow beneath his feet. In 1882 the Woolson Spice Co. was formed with a capital of $30,000.00 which represented significant local support from Toledo's business community including John Berdan and James Secor. The old Warren & Bidwell company was in financial straights and was to fall under the gavel at a government forclosure sale. Woolson was the successful bidder.

Woolson was a man possessed. He was tireless in his efforts to establish Lion Coffee as a major brand. It was 10 years before the first profits were realized. Then the tide came in and over the next five years over million profits were realized.

As markets filled and competition became fierce Woolson utilized a program of "premiums" to promote his products and encourage sales. "Save the wrapper" and "Cut out the Lion's Head" became the watchword of the day in households where the Lion Brand was used. Trading cards accompanied packages and toys could be sent for. There was something for everyone in the way of a Lion brand premium from bicycles and jackknifes to lace curtains.

By the time of Woolson's retirement, in 1897, the building housing the firm, at Huron and Jackson Streets in Toledo held 48 Burns #1 roasters each with a capacity of two bags. A fair days work being no less than 15 roasts per cylinder of Straight Rio coffee. In a single eight-hour shift the plants capacity was almost 454,000 bags annually, or about 7.5 percent of U.S. imports in those years (when imports hovered around 6 million bags per annum). In an interview after the sale of his business Woolson said," The field is ripe today for anyone to start in the coffee and spice business, but the party taking the lion's share and managing the business must have determination and stick-to-it-iveness, and lots of it - even at the sacrifice of health and pleasure. There must be no let-up for anything - be desperate, don't be a clam - and a million may perhaps be yours in a short time.

In the 90's the Arbuckle brothers controlled the world's largest coffee company. Their whole bean roasted product was glazed with a sugar coating (to retard stalage) and put up in retail packages under the Ariosa brand. Ariosa was the largest selling coffee in America. As can be understood, the Arbuckle's purchases of sugar, for coating preparation, was enormous. It was natural for them to decide to enter the sugar business themselves rather than purchase from others.

The sugar trust, led by Henry O. Havemeyer, was not amused at the Arbuckle's decision to supply their own sugar. Havemeyer decided to take-on the Arbuckle's on their own turf. To this end he and his powerful allies in the sugar trade and Herman Sielcken (America's green coffee importing "King") secured control of Woolson Spice Co. in 1896, for the hefty sum (in the gold currency of the day) of $2 million. The Woolson company would sell its Lion Brand in the Mid-west, and The American Coffee Co. would sell Lion brand in the East. At last there would be a national rival to face those Arbuckle's!! The war raged in the stores, and courts of the land for years, and was a hot topic of conversation within and without the coffee trade.

The Woolson Spice Co. was credited, during this period, with spending unheard of sums in the promotion of Lion brand coffee in new market areas in the East. The eastern newspaper display ads alone exceeded anything ever attempted in the way of advertising. It was the first mass campaign to persuade the public to a particular product brand.

In the end, the advertising campaign was successful, but the cost of obtaining the market share was too great. They were selling coffee too cheap, and yet had been unable to dislodge Arbuckle's Ariosa. The Arbuckle's on the other hand had succeeded in their efforts to establish a sugar business to supply their own needs, as well as offer product to the public. Seicken took over the coffee business from Havemeyer for a fraction of what they had paid for it.

In 1919, after Seilcken's death, Woolson Spice brought unsuccessful suit against his estate claiming he had defrauded the concern out of almost $1 million during the time he was both its green coffee source and Woolson's president. The company never recovered financially. Operations ceased and the assets eventually fell to the control of The Court of Common Pleas, Lucas County, Ohio.

This would be the end of the Lion story had not a fellow named Jim Delano not been seduced by one of those old Lion brand posters mentioned earlier. "Seized with a sudden inexplicable compulsion to own and control," Delano tracked down the Lion to The Court of Common Pleas, where on November 26, 1980 his Delano West Ltd., a Hawaii corporation, obtained the rights of ownership to the name and assets of the Woolson Spice Company.

Delano and his partners, Jonathan Barner, and Kevin Hoffberg worked through the summer of 1981 preparing the rebirth of Lion brand. Their efforts; a fine specialty coffee enterprise opened in downtown Honolulu. Lion "World Headquarters" is located at 831 Queen Street. There is an outdoor "Lanai" where fine coffee beverages and espresso is served, and a Lion General Store where Lion coffees (Now Kona than Rio based) are offered for retail sale along with a hearty array of coffee related items and Lion paraphernalia. Premiums are offered (just like in the old days) for those who like to cut out and save Lion faces. There's a dandy newsletter called the Lion Island Reader available too.

An old friend of mine, Lenny Tauber, has an expression that he often applies to the coffee trade, "What goes around, comes around." In the case of Lion brand it appears to be true. And it's nice to have the old boy back.

PHOTO : The original poster

PHOTO : Lion Coffee, today
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Lion brand coffee
Author:Schoenholt, Donald N.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Words:1605
Previous Article:Super market for specialty coffee.
Next Article:For a lucky 13, a coffee tour of London and the continent.
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