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."
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.
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.