Jackie Robinson Chock Full O’Nuts

February 1, 2012 by staff 

Jackie Robinson Chock Full O’Nuts, Chock full o’Nuts is a chain of lunch counters in New York City that spawned a brand of coffee.
The chain was founded by William Black (1903-1983), an American immigrant who sold nuts in Times Square to theater-goers. In 1926, he opened a store on Broadway and 43rd Street, and began selling coffee and sandwiches. By the 1960s, the chain had approximately 80 restaurants in the New York City area. Hygiene was a selling point, with the sandwiches advertised as “untouched by human hands”. Cooks used tongs to assemble them.

Their signature “nutted cheese” sandwich, made of cream cheese and chopped nuts on dark raisin bread, cost a nickel with a cup of coffee when the company was founded. When coffee prices went up in the 1950s, Black, like other restaurateurs, held to a 5-cent cup of coffee by watering it down. But he soon broke ranks and raised the price, announcing that he refused to compromise on quality.

In 1953, the coffee brand was introduced to supermarkets. Baseball star Jackie Robinson ultimately became the company’s vice president and director of personnel after retiring from the game. In 1961, Chock full o’Nuts introduced a brand of instant coffee.

In the 1970s, the lunch counters gradually closed. About this time, with Black increasingly advanced in age, Steinfield, a major real estate operator in New York City who wanted the property that the restaurants occupied, declared war on Chock Full. He stated that when he won his actions he would close the restaurants. After Black died, the company sold its remaining 17 restaurants to the restaurant company Riese Bros. In 1988, investor Martin D. Gruss and companies he controlled purchased a 10-percent stake in the Chock Full o’Nuts Corporation, saying he might seek control of the company. In 1993, Chock Express stores were introduced.

The Sara Lee Corporation purchased Chock full o’Nuts for $238 million in 1999. In May 2006, it was purchased from Sara Lee by Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA, along with the MJB, Hills Bros., and Chase & Sanborn coffee brands.

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