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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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The Top Excuses Employees Give for Being Late to Work
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Expecting staff to just get out of bed and show up on time seems like a low bar for an employer to set, but some workers have trouble meeting this bare-minimum obligation. Their stated reasons can almost sound believable.

Job placement site CareerBuilder.com recently conducted a survey and asked 800 respondents in various age brackets how often they were late for work, as well as over 1000 human resource managers for data on missing workers. Overall, one in four employees admitted to being tardy at least once a month. Those aged 18 to 34 were the most frequently late, with 38 percent clocking in past their expected arrival. Only 14 percent of workers 45 and older were less-than-punctual.

As for excuses: 51 percent said traffic was the most common reason they straggled in. Around 31 percent said oversleeping was an issue, while bad weather (28 percent) and forgetting something and having to return home (13 percent) plagued others.

According to human resources managers, some workers claimed that they were late because their coffee was too hot; that they fell asleep in the parking lot; that it was too cold outside to travel; or that their false eyelashes were stuck together.

Not surprisingly, CareerBuilder also found that 88 percent of workers were in favor of a flexible work schedule.

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14 Secrets of Costco Employees
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Costco has become something of a unicorn in the brick-and-mortar industry. While employees at other chains express concerns over low wages and questionable management choices, the 200,000-plus ground troops at Costco’s massive shopping centers rave about generous pay ($13 to $22.50 hourly, depending on seniority), comprehensive benefits, and pension plans. After one year of employment, the turnover rate is only 6 percent, compared to an average of 16 percent across the retail industry. Not having to incur costs of training replacements is just one reason the company keeps prices low.

It’s no secret that Costco employees are a relatively happy bunch. But we wanted a little more information, so we’ve asked several current Costco workers about everything from pet peeves to nail polish bans to revoking memberships. (All requested we use only their first names to preserve anonymity.) Here’s what they had to tell us about life in the pallets.

1. WORKING THERE IS BETTER THAN GOING TO THE GYM.

Turns out that navigating a warehouse full of goods stacked to the ceiling is kind of like getting an all-day gym pass. “I walk about five to eight miles a day on average, and that's all within the confines of the store,” says Rachael, a Costco employee in Colorado. “When you see pallets stacked with 50-pound bags of flour or sugar or dog food or cat litter, a lot of that stuff had to be stacked by hand by employees before the store opens. Ditto for those giant stacks of shoes and bottles of salsa or five-gallon jugs of cooking oil. It's a lot of hard work.”

2. THEY CAN DO THEIR SHOPPING AFTER HOURS.

Costco shopping carts are arranged together
Brendan Smialowski, Getty Images

While employees typically don’t get shopping discounts, they have something that’s arguably better: the opportunity to shop in a near-empty store. “You can shop after hours, and a lot of employees do that,” says Kathleen, a Costco employee in Washington state. “You just bring your cart to the front register.” The store will keep the member service counter open so workers can check out after other registers have closed.

3. THE GENEROUS RETURN POLICY CAN GET MESSY.

Costco infamously places very few restrictions on returns. Most anything purchased there can be brought back for a refund as part of the company’s overall emphasis on exceptional customer service. Naturally, some members are willing to abuse the privilege. “Members return couches that are over five years old, and interestingly enough, they still have the receipt,” Rachael says. “My guess is that they buy that couch with the intention of returning it someday, so they tape the receipt to the bottom of the couch so they don't lose it. Then, when they've worn it out and want something new, they bring it back and get a full refund.”

Rachael has also seen a member return a freezer that was allegedly no longer working. The store refunded both the cost of the appliance and the spoiled meat inside. “The meat smelled like death,” she says.

4. THEY CAN ALSO TELL WHEN YOU’RE A SERIAL RETURNER.

A shopper at Costco looks at the computer display
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

Costco purchase records typically date back 10 years or so, but employees working the return counter don’t always need to reference your account to know that you're making a habit of getting refunds. “When someone comes in to return something without a receipt and they go, ‘Oh, you can look it up on my account,’ that’s a tell,” says Thomas, an employee in California. “It tells me you return so much stuff that you know what we can find on the computer.”

5. THERE’S A CONVENIENCE STORE-WITHIN-A-STORE.

While employees are generally allowed to eat their lunch or dinner meals in the food court, not all of them are crazy about pizza and hot dogs as part of their daily diet. Many opt for the employee break room, which—in some warehouse locations—looks more like a highway rest stop. Rows of vending machines offer fresh meals, snacks, and sodas, along with a complete kitchen for preparing food brought from home. “[It’s a] relatively new addition that is being implemented at more warehouses,” says Steve, an employee in California. “It's basically like a gas station's convenience store, with both frozen and fresh meals and snacks. The only difference is the prices are more reasonable.”

6. THERE’S A GOOD REASON THERE ISN’T AN EXPRESS CHECKOUT LANE.

A Costco shopper goes through the checkout lane
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Walk into a Costco and you’ll probably notice an employee with a click counter taking inventory of incoming members. According to Rachael, that head count gets relayed to the supervisor in charge of opening registers. “They know that for a certain amount of people entering the store, within a certain amount of time, there should be a certain amount of registers open to accommodate those shoppers who are ready to check out,” she says. If there aren’t enough cashiers on hand, the supervisor can pull from other departments: Most employees are “cross-trained” to help out when areas are understaffed.

7. THERE’S A METHOD TO THE RECEIPT CHECK.

Customers sometimes feel offended when they’re met at the exit by an employee scanning their receipt, but it’s all in an effort to mitigate loss prevention and keep prices low. “We’re looking for items on the bottom of the cart, big items like TVs, or alcohol,” Thomas says. Typically, the value of these items might make it worth the risk for a customer who's trying to shoplift—and they're worth the double-check.

8. THEY TAKE SAFE FOOD HANDLING TO A NEW LEVEL ...

A Costco employee works in food preparation
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

At Costco, employees are expected to exercise extreme caution when preparing and serving hot dogs, pizza, chicken and other food to members. “If an employee forgets to remove their apron before exiting the department, they must remove that apron, toss it into the hamper, and put on a fresh apron because now it's contaminated,” Rachael says. “Or, let's say a member asks for a slice of cheese pizza. We place that piece onto a plate, with tongs, of course, then place the plate onto the counter. If the member says, ‘Oh darn, I've changed my mind, I'd rather have pepperoni pizza,’ then we have to toss the pizza that they didn't want into the trash. Once it hits the counter, it can't come back.” Some store protocols even prohibit employees from wearing nail polish in food prep areas—it could chip and get into the food.

9. ... BUT WORKING AT THE FOOD COURT CAN PREPARE THEM FOR ANYTHING.

Costco employees who find themselves behind the counter at the chain’s food court say it's one of the few less-than-pleasant experiences of working there. For some members, the dynamic of waiting on food and peering over a service counter can make them forget their manners. “Usually members are rude when they are waiting on their pizza during a busy time,” Steve says. “If an employee can excel in the food court, any other position in the warehouse is pretty easy by comparison.”

10. THEY GET FREE TURKEYS.

Costco’s generous wages and benefits keep employment applications stacked high. What people don’t realize, Kathleen says, is that the company’s attention to employee satisfaction can result in getting gifted a giant bird. “We get free turkeys for Thanksgiving,” she says. “I didn’t even know that before I started working there. It’s a nice perk.”

11. THEY CAN REVOKE YOUR MEMBERSHIP.

Shoppers go down an aisle at Costco
Gabriel Buoys, AFP/Getty Images

But it’s got to be a pretty extreme situation. According to Thomas, memberships can be terminated if a member is caught stealing or having a physical altercation inside the store. For less severe infractions, employees can make notes under a “comments” section of your membership. They’ll do that for frequent returns, if you’re verbally aggressive, or if you like to rummage through pre-packaged produce looking for the best apples. (Don’t do that.)

12. MANAGERS GET THEIR HANDS DIRTY.

During peak business times on weekends and around holidays, the influx of customer traffic can get so formidable that managers jump in with employees to make sure everything gets taken care of. “Most people would be surprised if they realized that the person who just put all of their groceries into their cart at the registers or who helped load that huge mattress into their car was actually the store's general manager,” Rachael says.

13. EVERY DAILY STORE OPENING IS CONTROLLED CHAOS …

Shoppers appear in front of a Costco store
Scott Olsen, Getty Images

Like most any retail store, Costco prides itself on presenting a clean, efficient, and organized layout that holds little trace of the labor that went into overnight stocking or display preparation. But if a customer ever happened to see the store in the last hour before opening each day, they’d witness a flurry of activity. “It's controlled chaos with loud music along with the blaring of the forklift sirens,” Steve says. “Employees are rushing to finish and clean up, drivers are rushing to put merchandising in the steel [shelving], and the floor scrubber slowly but surely makes its way around the warehouse. It truly is a remarkable choreography that happens seven days a week.”

14. … AND EVERY CLOSING IS A SLOW MARCH.

To avoid stragglers, Costco employees form a line and walk down aisles to encourage customers to move toward the front of the store so they can check out before closing. Once the doors are locked, overnight stocking begins in anticipation of another day at the world’s coziest warehouse. “Our store has over 250 employees altogether,” Rachael says. “If all of us do our little bit, then it's a well-oiled machine that runs without a hitch.”

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