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Saturday, September 26, 2015


If you read the November 26, 1919 edition of the New York Times you might have come across an article that members of the Roosevelt clan, including the three sons of President Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore, Jr., Kermit, and Archibald, together with their brother-in-law, Dr. Richard Derby, and their cousin, Philip Roosevelt, had launched a company to create a chain of New York City coffee houses similar to those flourishing in Europe.

New York Times: Nov, 26, 1919

The concept showed amazing foresight.  The era of the chain coffee house in America can be traced to the first Roosevelt family outlet at 108 West 44th Street (now a modern financial high rise).

Called the Brazilian Coffee House with Philip Roosevelt as its president, the first outlet was soon followed with another on Lexington Avenue.  The can be traced to Teddy’s son Kermit, who visited Brazil before WWI and mulled importing coffee from Rio de Janiero to America.  After the war, Kermit organized his relatives as investors in the project.

Timing was right for a coffee house venture as Prohibition was on the horizon and coffee would be the perfect social drink to replace booze.

The Times in 1919 interviewed the coffee house manager A.M. Salazar, who pointed out “we are not a restaurant; please make that clear.  The law required that we incorporate as a restaurant, but we are a coffee house, a real coffee house, like those in London...Paris...and cities in Brazil.”

Manager Salazar went on to say, the New York coffee house—later called the Double R Coffee Houses—were serving light lunch items (pastry and sandwiches) “but it is coffee in which we are mainly interested, and we will sell it to drink or to carry home.”

The feisty Brazilian manager gave a lecture on coffee, which the Times reporter duly noted: “American people don’t really know how to appreciate good coffee.  They prepare it either in the percolator or by boiling...we make it like tea, by pouring boiling water over coffee through a specially prepared strainer...and we are willing to show anyone how to roast and prepare the coffee in the real Brazilian manner...”

Sounds like we have—not only the founding coffee house chain but also the start of “pour over” style coffee houses so popular across America almost 100 years later.

The chain expanded to four locations in Manhattan and flourished under Roosevelt ownership until 1928.  By then the boys had other adventures in mind and sold the successful Double R’s to a young couple who met at the original coffee house in 1923.

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