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Issue Date: November 2010 Issue

Our Own Cup of Joe

How Van Roy Coffee Co. became the city’s roast.
Somewhere over the years, diner coffee has gotten a bad rap, running with the burnt, bitter and nothing special crowd of adjectives. These bad cups of joe would lure us in with the promise that it would be hot, cheap and never ending.

Imagine our surprise when, while reporting and ordering black coffee at every diner, a terrible cup of coffee became a rarity. Some were strong, some were weak and some, as expected, tasted like tar.

But the best cups we found came from beans roasted by local Van Roy Coffee Co., which, founded in the 1930s, is as much a morning institution as the less than $2 cups served at area diners.

“We’re a coffee without all the bells and whistles,” says president Jim Miller of Van Roy’s medium-roasted beans that haven’t changed in 80 years. Back then Van Roy saturated the diner market and expanded as diners evolved. They started serving in soda fountains and drug stores then worked their way into department store diners.

By the 1950s, independent diners hit their stride.“We had a corner in all of them,” Miller says. “We still have a commanding lead in that market in this area.”

It’s still a leader despite the fact that Van Roy has fought the trend to mass market a dark roast — a European blend popularized by Starbucks. Although they do offer it, if clients ask, Miller says they prefer to stick to the classic. Why? “Because we’re an old-school type of place.”

Also, to ensure a fresh cup every time, Van Roy instructs its customers to toss a pot after 25 minutes.

“We encourage them not to let the pot sit for very long so that it doesn’t burn,” Miller says. “That way it’s consistent, good flavor — just as consistent as the good food at the diners we serve.”

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