12:09 PM PDT, August 31, 2007
Alfred Peet, the Dutch immigrant who opened his first store 41 years ago in Berkeley and is credited with kindling the nation's gourmet coffee fervor, died today at his home in Ashland, Ore. He was 87.
The death was announced by Peet's Coffee & Tea Inc., the company he retired from in 1983.
He was born in Alkmaar, Holland, and learned the coffee business by helping his father in the family's small coffee roasting facility in the Dutch town before World War II.
After the war, Peet joined Lipton's Tea in London as an apprentice and also worked in the tea business of Indonesia, which was still a Dutch colony at the time. He immigrated to San Francisco in 1955 and took a job at the coffee importing business of E.A. Johnson & Co.
Peet set out on his own in 1966, opening a small shop on a Berkeley street corner. He used high-quality beans and a manually controlled roasting system to set his coffee apart from what was being served in the local diners and coffee shops.
His tiny store near the UC Berkeley campus soon became the West Coast mecca of the coffee cognoscenti.
As the Berkeley shop flourished, Peet opened additional stores elsewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area. But the original store remained a cultural landmark, frequented by UC Berkeley students and faculty as well as the intellectuals and radicals who populated the university town during the late 1960s and '70s.
Coffee entrepreneur Jerry Baldwin and the other founders of Starbucks were also among Peet's early customers.
They used Peet's as the model for the new venture they were planning for rain-drenched Seattle. The partners mulled over whether to call the Seattle store Steamers or Customs House but settled on Starbucks, thinking that their shop needed an easily pronounced name, like Peet's, Baldwin told The Times in a 2006 interview.
Starbucks adopted and popularized the style of coffee brewed by Peet. Americans now associate that deep-roasted style with premium coffee.
At first the Starbucks owners purchased roasted coffee from Peet. But at one point the Dutch coffee master said that Starbucks had grown too big and he could no longer supply the chain. Peet helped Starbucks purchase a secondhand roaster and then taught the owners how to use it.
After Peet retired, Baldwin's partnership purchased Peet's for $4 million.
In 1987, when one of the partners wanted to cash out, Baldwin kept Peet's and sold Starbucks for $3.8 million to a group headed by Howard Schultz, a former Starbucks marketing director who had quit to open his own coffeehouse.
Schultz put Starbucks on the fast track, taking the company from eight stores in the Seattle metropolis to 11,000 worldwide currently.
Peet's did not release information on the cause of death.
He is survived by a sister, a daughter and two grandchildren.