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9 Things You Might Not Know About Peet's Coffee

Coffee guru Alfred Peet opened his first coffee bean shop in Berkeley, California just over 50 years ago, effectively launching a caffeine-fueled revolution. Considered the grandfather of the American gourmet coffee movement, his eponymous coffee shops are now found across the country.

1. FOUNDER ALFRED PEET WAS INVOLVED IN THE TEA AND COFFEE BUSINESS SINCE HIS CHILDHOOD.

Born in the Netherlands in 1920, Peet grew up assisting his father at the family's small coffee roastery. In his teens, he worked in London as an apprentice at a coffee and tea company, and he later traveled to Indonesia as a tea taster in the early 1950s.

2. PEET WAS AGHAST AT WHAT AMERICANS CONSIDERED "COFFEE."

Alfred Peet circa the late 1960s. Peet's Coffee via Facebook

Seeking new grounds, Peet moved to San Francisco in 1955. At the time however, America was known for drinking coffee that tasted like "dishwater," according to Jim Reynolds, a longtime ambassador for Peet's brand (he holds the title of Roastmaster Emeritus). "I came to the richest country in the world, so why are they drinking the lousiest coffee?" Mr. Peet asked himself, and he set out to do something about it.

Hoping to replace the black sludge in Americans’ mugs with premium, imported coffee beans, Peet opened his first store on the corner of Walnut and Vine streets in Berkeley, California in 1966.

3. THE FIRST DEVOTEES OF THE STORE WERE CALLED "PEETNIKS."

The neighborhood around Peet’s soon gained a reputation as a place where one could find high-quality food. Nicknamed "the Gourmet Ghetto" by the late 1970s, the first foodies flocked to artisanal cheese and chocolate shops in the area, which became known as the breeding ground for socially conscious California cuisine. And Peet’s Coffee was right in the thick of it from the beginning. The brand's cult following began calling themselves Peetniks, and the company still uses the term today for their customer loyalty program.

4. PEET IS CREDITED WITH STARTING THE HIGH-END COFFEE REVOLUTION IN AMERICA.

Roastmaster Emeritus Jim Reynolds. Peet's Coffee via Facebook

Soon, everyone was talking about the new coffee coming out of Peet’s store, including three men who would later start a small coffee shop in Seattle (but more on that later). "Everybody was drinking coffee that came out of a can, but Alfred was a purist rooted in the European tradition," Alice Waters, the chef of influential Gourmet Ghetto eatery Chez Panisse, told The New York Times. "He taught us a new way to look at food, wine, and coffee—paying attention to the preparation, the ritual, and understanding how the beans and ingredients were grown."

5. STARBUCKS FOUNDER JERRY BALDWIN LEFT AND THEN RETURNED TO PEET'S.

Jerry Baldwin started his career in the coffee business scooping beans at Peet’s. When he and his two friends Gordon Bowker and Zev Siegel decided to open their own coffee shop in Seattle in 1971, they initially sourced all their green coffee beans (the beans they'd later roast) from Peet himself. "All of my early coffee knowledge came from Alfred and what we learned there," Baldwin told Fortune last year.

But in 1984, while running his own growing coffee company, Baldwin learned Peet’s Coffee was up for sale. In a decision he says was a no-brainer, he bought Peet’s, and then three years later sold Starbucks (at this point, both Bowker and Siegel had already left the company) to current CEO Howard Schultz. Baldwin still sits on the Board of Directors of Peet's.

6. PEET'S AND STARBUCKS ONCE HAD A NON-COMPETE AGREEMENT OVER THE BAY AREA.

As part of the deal between Baldwin and Schultz, Starbucks agreed it would not open a franchise on Peet’s home turf for the first five years. But, when that agreement expired in 1992, Schultz immediately bought space and opened a Starbucks right next door to a San Francisco Peet's. Baldwin was furious, but Peet's continued to thrive, and the two locations on Chestnut Street in the Marina District are both still open.

7. WHEN PEET'S ANNOUNCED IT WAS BEING BOUGHT BY A PRIVATE COMPANY, EVERYONE ASSUMED THE COMPANY WAS STARBUCKS.

After 11 years of being publicly traded on the Nasdaq, Peet’s was bought by a German conglomerate for nearly $1 billion in 2012—not by the company everyone thought would be Peet’s highest bidder. Joh. A. Benckiser, the current owner, also has majority stakes in OPI Nail Polish, Jimmy Choo, and Caribou Coffee.

8. PEET'S HOLDS A NATIONAL BARISTA COMPETITION FOR ITS EMPLOYEES EACH YEAR.

After making it through district and regional competitions, top-notch baristas are invited to compete in a national competition where they are judged on technical quality and taste. Contestants are given 15 minutes to prepare three drinks for the panel of four judges: an espresso, a cappuccino, and a signature beverage.

9. COFFEE LOYALISTS WERE CONCERNED AT THE COMPANY'S BUYING SPREE IN 2015.

After joining forces with Mighty Leaf Tea in August 2014, Peet’s acquired both Portland, Oregon cold brew darling Stumptown and Chicago's super-premium coffee company Intelligentsia Coffee in October 2015. The caffeine addicts of the Twitter universe voiced their concerns over the mergers, with hits such as "Dear @Intelligentsia, please don’t lose your soul." Both brands, however, remain independently run and their founders (both of whom got their start at Peet’s) remain active in operations.

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
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The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

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