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Landmark Legend: Maxwell House

5:55 AM, Nov 8, 2012   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --  If you've been in Jacksonville awhile you've no doubt driven down Bay Street and smelled a certain odor.  And if you're a coffee drinker you love it.  The scent of the Maxwell House Plant wafts across downtown every day depending on how the wind blows.  

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Maxwell House has been one of America's favorite coffees for generations.  For more than 100 years Jacksonville residents have smelled the coffee beans roasting at the Maxwell House plant on Bay Street and at night can't miss the company's trademark neon sign pouring a bottomless cup of coffee.

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Maxwell House coffee was introduced way back in 1892 by Joel Cheek at the Maxwell House hotel in Nashville. Cheek teamed up with partner John Neal to form the Cheek-Neal Coffee company. A few years later they expanded and opened a plant in Jacksonville. "They came to Jacksonville and built his first plant on the river side of Bay Street and then in 1924 built this building that we're in now, " said Maxwell House Jacksonville plant manager Joe Waryold.  He oversees the plant's 240 employees. Only 30 people were employed when the plant started.

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Some workers have been roasting coffee beans at the plant for a long, long time. "We have a few employees with over 40 years and a couple with 45."  said Wayold.

Over the years Maxwell House has had a few spokespeople like Cora and its slogans, "good till the last drop."  The company claims Theodore Roosevelt said that line when he took a sip of Maxwell House coffee when he visited Andrew Jackson's estate, The Hermitage in Nashville.

Jacksonville has grown up around the Maxwell House plant. The shipyards were neighbors early on and nearby buildings have changed names a few times.  Despite its size, being one of the biggest coffee roasting plants in the world, Maxwell House keeps a low profile in town. There are no plant tours and there's good reason for the plants secrecy.  The coffee business is competitive and Maxwell House's parent company Kraft Foods wants to keep it that way.  "We talked about our need to stay competitive. Part of that is to not let our competitors know how we operate to the minute detail," said Waryold

Maxwell House is the second largest selling coffee in the U-S behind Folgers.  But back in 1990 the existence of the Jacksonville Maxwell House plant was threatened.  People were drinking less coffee and a plant on the east coast needed to be closed.  People here in town rallied to keep "Max in Jax" and were successful. The plant in Hoboken, New Jersey closed and the plant in her in Jacksonville remained opened.

Original Roast is the most popular coffee produced at the plant followed by master blend. The plant also produces a premium coffee called Gevalia.  All coffee from the Jacksonville plant and sister plant in San Leandro, California is shipped to the U-S and Canada. Coffee production increases during the winter months because people drink more coffee when it's cold. So expect the smell of Maxwell House to ramp up over the holidays in downtown Jacksonville, just like it has for more than 100 years.

First Coast News

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