There Are No Nuts in Chock Full o’Nuts Coffee. So What's in It?

Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When it comes to product packaging, consumer brands tend to be as explicit as possible in order to avoid confusion. If a shopper isn’t quite sure what they’re buying, they’ll probably leave it on the shelf. You won’t find prime rib labeled as tofu, milk as an alcoholic beverage, or a bag of sugar as salt.

There is one anomaly in grocery stores, and that’s Chock full o’Nuts coffee. The familiar can of ground beans is pure coffee, its contents completely divorced from its name. There are no nuts whatsoever. There’s even a disclaimer on the label: "No nuts. Just Coffee." But even the manufacturer admitted to The New York Times that some people avoid buying the product because they’re not quite sure what’s in it. So what gives?

In its earliest incarnation, Chock full o’Nuts actually made sense. The company originated in New York in the 1920s, where founder William Black was told he couldn’t sell anything out of his leased space in the basement of a building that was also sold by the drugstore located above him. To abide by the terms and to appeal to the theater crowd nearby, Black sold nuts. His venture quickly expanded to 18 nut shops that also sold sandwiches and coffee.

When the Depression hit in the 1930s and nut sales dwindled, Black increasingly utilized his roasters for coffee instead. Canned coffee came in 1953, and Black decided to keep the name of his shops for this new consumer product. The company even offers a brief history of its brand on the label, mentioning its nutty origins before again reassuring people there are no nuts.

Whatever sales might be lost to the confusion apparently doesn’t bother the Massimo Zanetti Beverage Group, the Treviso, Italy-based parent company of Chock full o’Nuts. The brand has a strong awareness in the northeast, and consumers are apparently quick to catch on when the coffee rolls out to other parts of the country. That initial curiosity over the name may actually further brand awareness: Chock full o’Nuts is the country’s fourth-largest seller of off-the-shelf coffee, behind Folgers, Maxwell House, and Nescafé.

Ironically, while their coffee is popular, Chock full o’Nuts wasn’t able to convince consumers they offered a solid snack product. The company tried going back to nuts in the 1960s, selling dry-roasted peanuts, cashews, and almonds. Few shoppers were interested. It turns out the last thing anyone wanted from Chock full o’Nuts is actual nuts.

The Disputed Origins of Publix’s Chicken Tender Subs

Josh Hallett, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Josh Hallett, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

After Popeyes released its new chicken sandwich last week, a heated battle broke out on Twitter over which fast food chain offers the best one. Favorites included Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s, and KFC, but the Publix chicken tender sub was mostly absent from the dialogue. Maybe it’s because Publix is a supermarket rather than a fast food restaurant, or maybe the southern chain is too specific to Florida and its neighboring states to warrant a national ranking.

Either way, the chicken tender sub is a cult culinary classic among Publix customers—there’s even an independently run website devoted to announcing when the subs are on sale (they aren’t right now), and affiliated Facebook and Twitter accounts with tens of thousands of followers. So whom do sub devotees have to thank for inventing the Publix food mashup from heaven? A Facebook user named Dave Charls says, “Me!,” but Publix begs to differ.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that in May of this year, a man named Dave Charls posted a message on the “Are Publix Chicken Tender Subs On Sale?” Facebook page recounting his origin story for the menu item, which allegedly took place in 1997 or 1998. At Charls explains it, he and his co-worker Kevin convinced their friend Philip, a deli worker at the Fleming Island Publix location, to assemble a sub with chicken tenders and ring it up as one item—something that deli workers had refused to do for Dave and Kevin in the past. According to Dave, Philip then convinced his manager to make it a special, publicized it via chalkboard sign, and the idea spread like hot sauce.

“You’re welcome,” Charls said. “It was actually Kevin’s idea and Philip brought it to life.”

Publix, however, told the Tampa Bay Times that its recorded documentation for a chicken tender sub recipe and procedure goes all the way back to 1992 or 1993. Based on that information, Publix spokesperson Brian West confirmed that Charls's heroic account of the origin is more fairytale than fact (though West, unfortunately, doesn’t have an equally thrilling origin story—or any story at all—with which to replace it).

Charls didn’t respond to a request from the Tampa Bay Times for comment, so we may never know how much of his claim is actually true. It’s possible, of course, that Publix’s 1992 (or 1993) chicken tender sub recipe hadn’t gained momentum by the time Kevin’s moment of culinary genius struck in 1997 (or 1998), and the lack of date specificity suggests that neither party knows exactly how it went down. What is incontrovertible, however, is the deliciousness of Publix's beloved sub sandwich.

"I'm just happy to live in the same timeline as this beautiful sandwich," says die-hard Pub Sub fan (and Mental Floss video producer/editor) Justin Dodd. “Copyright claims aside, it's truly a wonderful thing."

This London Pub Might Be the Most Ethical Bar in the World

Ridofranz/Getty Images
Ridofranz/Getty Images

Pub owner Randy Rampersad is doing his part for sustainability. In June, he opened the Green Vic—a play on the fictional Queen Vic pub in the soap opera EastEnders—in the East London neighborhood of Shoreditch. The Telegraph reports it’s aiming to be the world’s most ethical pub: Rampersad eschews plastic and paper straws and opts for gluten-free wheat “straws.” He sources the bar's 100 percent recycled toilet paper from green-minded company Who Gives a Crap, and the communal wooden tables are upcycled.

“I wanted to make the world a better place and run my own business, but I was waiting for that eureka moment,” Rampersad told The Telegraph. He discovered no one had done anything like this before.

There’s no meat on the menu—the food is totally vegan, healthy-ish pub grub. You can add CBD oil to the “chkn" bites appetizer, and the burgers are made from ingredients like soy, seaweed, and sweet potato. The beers are produced by ethical brewers, too: Toast Ale uses unsold loaves and crusts of bread; Good Things Brewing crafts its beer from 100 percent renewable energy; South Africa’s Afro Vegan Cider donates money to an organization that funds equal pay for female farmers; and Brewgooder donates to water projects.

In fact, everything the Green Vic does has charity in mind. “We don't care about the money, I’m planet first and profit after,” Rampersad told The Telegraph. Up to 80 percent of its profits will go to charitable causes, including local food banks. As for the staff, one in four are from marginalized groups. The Green Vic plans to operate as a three-month pop-up pub while scouting for longer term investment.

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