Haroldson’s Coffee WorldPosted: September 17, 2011
Around 1981, my father, who had just sold his very valuable NYC Taxi “medallion” (license), wanted to move to CA and was asking me what to do with his life. I told him to become a merchant, and that I would help set him up. At the time, I was an Architect and General Contractor, and an expert in designing and building retail stores in malls. I had worked in retail as a teen, but really knew little about running a retail business. Within months, we’d secured a lease, and I had researched the coffee store business thoroughly. I realized that you had to feature coffee beans and coffee beverages, but the real profit was in other merchandise, so our store was configured with a wide array of coffee makers, espresso/cappuccino makers, tea pots, serving sets, mugs, gourmet teas, exotic spices, jelly bellies, and other gourmet related items. We called the store “Haroldson’s” Coffee World – my father was the Harold; I was the son. We competed for a while with Deidrich’s, which then expanded and ultimately sold out to Starbucks*.
The store was in The City Shopping Center in Orange, CA, which has since been razed and replaced by The Block.
The store was successful, and I became a bit of an expert in coffee, going to roasters on tasting expeditions, and discussing with our vendors the various types of beans, how they were roasted, etc. At Christmas time we had lines out the door for our famous Haroldson’s Gift Pack, 4 – ½ lb bags of coffee, either whole bean or ground to order. These sold for about $12, and were a perfect hostess gift at the holidays.
My father was the quintessential merchant – the little bald guy in an apron – but also a bit of curmudgeon. However, he had a very sweet, generous nature, and the staff enjoyed working for him. One of our former employees, Deana, who has gone on to be a PhD professor, wrote a blog a few years ago that I just stumbled upon. It was a very touching reminiscence!
We’d opened two other retail stores with a different concept – Happy Hearts was heart, rainbow and unicorn type merchandise, but we sold those within a couple of years. We hung on to Haroldson’s. I was concerned about my Dad being able to do 10 hour days as he approached 70, so we sold the store at the peak of its value, about 4 years before that mall was demolished! The new owners opened one or two stores under the same name, but none are still around. My dad continued to work in other jobs until he was 86! He passed away 4 years ago.
It was fun being a retailer for a while. But, I was doing all this while still running other full-time jobs, raising a family, and it was tough to do it all.
* So, you might ask, what do I think of the Starbucks-ization of the coffee business? I really believe that independents have something to offer that transcends the chain approach. I once stopped in at an independent up in the Pacific Northwest, that gave away bumper stickers that read “Friends don’t let Friends drink Starbucks!” I know half of American coffee drinkers are addicted to Starbucks, so at great risk let me say that I think Starbucks always over-roasts their beans. It is a good way to hide mediocre quality raw beans. Certain coffee beans should be roasted less, to bring out their more delicate flavor nuances. Peets does a better job, and by the way, Peets was the store that most impressed me up front, when I did my initial research back in 1981 (visiting several of their Bay Area locations). They manage to keep a bit of that independent flavor. BUT, please seek out and support independent or very small chain coffee merchants – it’s the American way, and it will taste better.