It was the middle of the great depression and three young men were working for a coffee company in Chicago. David Radway, Lawrence Weingarten and Joe Block decided to start their own company. With $1,000 each they moved to Lansing. David and Larry founded the company with Joe as their first employee.
Why Lansing? It was far enough away as to not compete with their former employee and it was centrally located within driving distance of most the populated areas in Michigan. So they rented a space at 1210 North Turner Street. They spent $1500 immediately to fund the company with the necessities to get started.
Their first sale, August 7, 1935 was for l0lbs @ $.24 per pound to Rheame's Cafeteria on South Washington. Selling was their day job. At night, with help from their wives, they hand packed the orders (using hand staplers) so they could be delivered the next day. By reinvesting the profits, long hours, a stick-to-it attitude and always keeping the customer's needs satisfied, they made the company grow and prosper. By the end of the of that year, Paramount Coffee had sold 14,292lbs of coffee. The first line of products - coffee, tea, spices, chocolate.
By 1940, the company established their first delivery route, hired a secretary, purchased new plant and office equipment, and company cars for the partners. Next on the list was a heat sealing machine, to eliminate stapling, and an intercom system for easy communication throughout the building. With the company's growth, they began leasing the building next door, for $80 a month.
In the midst of WWII, Joe Block was called to service, and coffee became a risk to import from overseas. And with gasoline and coffee purchases both cut by 50% by order of the War Production Board, it really put a strain on business. But with the cuts came the permission of coffee blends and substitutions, and the creation of "Victory Blend". Despite the severe rationing of coffee, the company was still able to distribute a quality coffee product. And in 1943, coffee rations were finally suspended.
In January of 1944, the company moved to their newly purchased building, at the current 130 North Larch Street. It was a "modern" two story building with a freight elevator which allowed the trucks to drive inside and load on the second floor. They now had a modern office, a sales training room, larger warehouse and plant, and a complete service area. Building improvements were essential and the cost was $54,332. With all the new "modern" essentials, money was still tight. The company still sewed its own urn bags on rented sewing machines. Everyone had to chip in to keep it going with the war causing a huge shortage of manpower. With the end of the war in 1945, Joe Block finally returned home and continued his work with the company. By 1949, the company was back to normal operation, and growing again.
In 1950, the company officially became a roastery, with a newly built plant and brand new equipment. The expansion allowed the company to implement a fully functional service department, as well as expand the list of allied products. At this time, each department was it's own company, operating under different names within the same facility. In 1959, the company's first data processing machine was purchased, with the hope of reducing human error and simplify operation.
In 1964, founder Larry Weingarten passed away.
In 1969, Gold Cup Coffee company was bought out by Paramount, and for the first time, the company was distributing products in every major market in Michigan along with some markets in neighboring states.
In 1970, founding member Joe Block passed away.
The 70's were a tumultuous time featuring a very rapid expansion of fast food locations, two energy crises, gas lines, high inflation, growth in suburban areas and decline in urban areas. Factory cafeterias and hospitals were using larger catering type services. The times were changing and so the company was forced to change as well. In 1973 the last available adjacent piece of property at the time was purchased, adding 33,000 square feet of warehouse for the company.
In 1977, founder David Radway passed away. David's son, Ron, became President, with Joe Block's son, Bruce, taking the position of Controller.
In the early 1980's, the company was again feeling growing pains as they sought to expand and take advantage of the improvements now available for green coffee storage, packed coffee storage, roasting, warehousing, transportation, and more. The company was in luck when the adjacent car dealership building became available for purchase. With this purchase, the company was able to remain at the 130 North Larch location.
In 1985, the company celebrated its 50th anniversary. A second roaster was installed, and the service department moved into the newly acquired building. The new property also allowed the company to expand in yet another direction, creating Paramount Gourmet Coffee, with the focus on Specialty Coffee and the retail market. Paramount opened a section of the building to house their own gourmet coffee store, selling freshly roasted coffees, chocolates, and other gourmet treats.
In 1990, Ron Radway passed away, and Jeff Poyer, formerly a sales manager at Paramount, became President.
In 1995, the service department moved back across the street to join the rest of the departments, to make room for the building of Oldsmobile Park (now Cooley Law School Stadium), home of the Lansing Lugnuts minor league baseball team. Shortly after, the individual companies within Paramount began to merge together, to form a single company. The in-house retail store closed in 1999, and is now a conference room.
In 2000, Paramount Coffee Company officially became an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) company after legally merging into one entity. The employee-ownership prevents the company from being bought by a large national company.
Today, the company continues to see rapid growth, despite recent economic downfall across the country. New equipment continues to be implemented, from the computers in the office, to the packaging and roasting machines in the plant. New products are being rolled out and new clients are placing Paramount products on their shelves. With 75 years of experience, through hard times and times of plenty, Paramount Coffee Company has become one of the largest coffee roasters in the Midwest, with a loyal following of longtime customers, and new ones enticed every day.
For more moments from out history, read our blog post "Celebrating 75 Years!" found here.