Arbuckle Brothers, coffee entrepreneurs

Brothers John and Charlie (died 1891) Arbuckle moved to Brooklyn in 1881 to become the greatest coffee roasters of their generation in the 1860s. By the early years of the 20th century, their operation in Dumbo received, stored, roasted and packaged more coffee than any other company in America. Arbuckle invented a machine that efficiently roasted, ground, and packaged coffee into small bags for mass distribution throughout the country. Prior to this innovation, coffee beans had to be sold unroasted from barrels and were easily spoiled. These beans burnt easily as they were roasted at home.

Their first national brand was patented under the name “Arbuckle Ariosa”. Ariosa was nicknamed the “cowboy’s coffee,” as it was the brand of choice for cowhands on the range.  The coffee was stored in the Empire Warehouses in Dumbo which is now a beautiful mall, office complex, and viewing platform. The Brothers patented a unique egg-and-sugar glaze that prolonged the freshness of their coffee beans as they were transported west. In 1887, Arbuckle launched a sugar refinery at 10 Jay Street when Havemeyer Sugar (refiners of Domino Sugar) refused to lower prices for their biggest customer. Havemeyer went into the coffee business in response. The war between the two companies was so fierce and pervasive that the price of both coffee and sugar was depressed for much of the battle. Everyone in both industries suffered for it. In the end, Havemeyer folded. They gave up the coffee business. Arbuckle continued to refine his sugar.

Arbuckle eventually built up much of the real estate along Jay Street in what is now the DUMBO section of Brooklyn. At the company’s height, in the ‘teens, Arbuckle Brothers occupied a dozen city blocks along the waterfront in Dumbo. Their business was completely self-contained — they didn’t outsource anything. The Arbuckle Brothers Company stayed in the family for at least two more generations. But by the 1930s, no doubt feeling the pinch of the Depression, the family began selling off the company. The only brand they held onto was Yuban (Yuletide Banquet) coffee brand. One by one, the Dumbo factories were closed and sold off. The sugar refinery operated until 1945, when it was sold as a whiskey warehouse. It later became a warehouse for Abraham & Straus.

By the 1940s, most of Arbuckle’s buildings in Brooklyn were being used by other businesses. Today, Yuban Coffee is now a cheaper grade of supermarket coffee. A new Arbuckles Coffee — hand roasted in Arizona, 100 percent organically grown and fair trade — is now available. This new company has revived the Ariosa label and markets their coffee based on a combination of the Old West legend and the new artisanal coffee craze.

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