THE PASSING OF AL PEET – Founder of Peet’s Coffee

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Alfred H. Peet seen at the first Peet’s store
with coffee roaster in 1966. Peet began the
company at Walnut and Vine Streets
in Berkeley.

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BY PAT MURPHY
Sentinel Editor & Publisher
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

Al Peet, connoisseur of fine coffee and founder of Peet’s Coffee, died peacefully Wednesday at the age of 87, it was announced today.

Peet brought specialty coffee to mass availability opening the original Berkeley shop in 1966.

By the time of his death much of Peet’s coast-to-coast following insisted on drinking only Peet’s.

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Peet was born in Alkmaar, Holland on March 10, 1920 and died in Ashland, Oregon.

His father had a small coffee roastery in Alkmaar prior to World War II, and Alfred helped his father by cleaning machinery and doing other odd jobs as a boy.

When Germany invaded the Netherlands he was pressed into working for the Third Reich in Frankfurt and witnessed first hand the intensive Allied bombings there in early 1944.

When the war ended, Alfred joined Lipton’s Tea in London as an apprentice and afterwards went out to the still-Dutch colony of Indonesia to work in the tea business there.

He immigrated to San Francisco in 1955 and eventually found a job in the coffee importing business of E. A. Johnson & Co.

But all the coffee coming into San Francisco was relatively low quality Brazils and “Central Standard” Salvadors for the large local roasting companies Folgers, MJB, and Hills Brothers.

This was frustrating to Mr. Peet because he remembered the great high altitude coffees from Costa Rica, Guatemala, and East Africa that his father used to buy.

But there were no customers for them here, so he decided to do something about it.

He scoured the West Coast from Vancouver to Palo Alto looking for a suitable location for a high-quality coffee roastery before a friend told him that she knew the right place for him, right across the Bay in Berkeley.

He installed a small roaster in the shop’s back room, and the revolution began.

As Peet’s in Berkeley flourished, Mr. Peet opened additional stores in Menlo Park (1971), on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland (1978), and another in Berkeley across from the Claremont Hotel (1980).

“The coffee tells my story,” Peet told visitors prior to his death.

The Peet’s company and Bay City News contributed to this report.

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PAT MURPHY
Sentinel Editor & Publisher
In his youth, Pat Murphy worked as a General Assignment reporter for the Richmond Independent, the Berkeley Daily Gazette, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He served as Managing Editor of the St. Albans (Vermont) Daily Messenger at age 21. Murphy also launched ValPak couponing in San Francisco, as the company’s first San Francisco franchise owner. He walked the bricks, developing ad strategy for a broad range of restaurants and merchants. Pat knows what works and what doesn’t work. His writing skill has been employed by marketing agencies, including Don Solem & Associates. He has covered San Francisco governance for the past eleven years. Pat scribes an offbeat opinion column of the human family. Email Pat Murphy at SanFranciscoSentinel@yahoo.com.

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