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MJB coffee history

After the California Gold Rush, San Francisco became a center of coffee importing and roasting in the western United States, spawning such future industry giants as Folgers Coffee and Hills Brothers Coffee.

In 1881 Max J. Brandenstein (1860-1925)[2] began producing roasted coffee in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1899 he established a tea, spice and coffee import business in his name that took over his brand with the assistance of brothers Mannie, Charlie, and Eddie. The firm's name was later changed to the MJB Co.[3] to minimise sibling rivalry and disguise their German-Jewish origins.[4]

In her memoir "Coffee, Martinis and San Francisco," published by Presidio Press in 1978, Ruth Bransten McDougall, the granddaughter of the founder, wrote on page 94 that her father Mannie Brandenstein changed his name to Bransten to protect the business against anti-German antipathies during World War I, as well as to please his wife, whose family originated from France.[5]

In 1910 Mannie Brandenstein debuted what was to become a well-known advertising campaign: "MJB Coffee Why?", beginning with a promotional fans giveaway at the Johnson-Jeffries[6] boxing match  in Reno, Nevada. In time, signs bearing the slogan appeared all over San Francisco.[3][7]

For the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 MJB created a temporary "ultramodern" coffee house featuring a giant cup and saucer on the roof with the illuminated word "WHY".[8]

MJB was acquired by Nestle in 1985.[9] In 1999 Sara Lee Corp. acquired MJB, Hills Brothers, and Chase & Sanborn from Nestle.[10]

In 2005 MJB, Hills Brothers, Chase & Sanborn, and Chock Full o' Nuts were purchased by Massimo Zanetti Beverage from Sara Lee for US$82.5 million.


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