The World’s First New Orleans Style Iced Coffee –
IN THE BEGINNING-
New Orleans is synonymous with coffee. In fact, the two are so intertwined that much of New Orleans’ early economy was built on the coffee industry. As such, the people of New Orleans have a relationship with coffee unlike that of just about any other City in the United States. In New Orleans, every person’s story of their first cup of coffee is some variation on cafe au lait or coffee milk at their grandmaw’s house. It’s part of who we are. So when Fred Peer and Michael Stonebreaker, the two entrepreneurs behind N.O. Brew met in 2004 over a cup of coffee, it wasn’t long before the ideas started flowing. ‘Why isn’t there a decent iced coffee sold in grocery stores? What would it take to…?’ and the questions kept coming. Soon after, the two rented a 5,000 square foot facility in the Faubourg Marigny area along the historic coffee wharves of the Mississippi River. Nearly one year later, after months of building their equipment and facilities by hand and personally selecting the beans that would become the distinctive N.O. Brew blend, N.O. Brew Iced Coffee was launched. Immediately, with the distribution help of Browns Dairy, retailers and local consumers fell for N.O. Brew. Sales were growing exponentially for the first three months and success appeared certain until August 29, 2005.
THE HURRICANE KATRINA DAYS –
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina came ashore east of New Orleans, ripping roofs from buildings and blowing in windows and doors that were not reinforced. Shortly after, the levees built to retain the waters of Lake Pontchartrain collapsed and allowed the waters that were pushed in from the Gulf of Mexico to inundate 90% of the City. Unfortunately for the two entrepreneurs, both of their families houses fell victim to the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. The N.O. Brew production facility didn’t make out much better. The winds ripped the roof from their facility and blew in the three over-sized doors making the production uninhabitable for food production. Then the looters removed just about anything that wasn’t too big to move. Within days of the storm, with Michael living in an uncle’s motor home and Fred splitting time in relative’s houses in Lafayette, LA and Dallas, TX, the pair, with the help of friends and family still in suburban New Orleans, moved all of their remaining production equipment to a temporary storage location. After serious discussions of where to put their new facility, they decided they needed to stay where they were. New Orleans, is after all, in the name. Within weeks, the new production facility was back online and N.O. Brew Coffee was once again on grocery store shelves. For the next several weeks, Dorignac’s grocery store in Metairie, LA was the only N.O. Brew customer buying 100% of the iced coffee as quickly as it could be produced.
MOVING FORWARD –
As the months moved forward and things slowly returned to a semblance of normalcy, the N.O. Brew founders were faced with the harsh reality of living in a market that was half the size of the Pre-Katrina days and showing no signs of a return to the days prior. As that reality set in, the Whole Foods Market based in Austin, Texas got word of the great taste of N.O. Brew and brought all the products into their warehouse for distribution. As the months passed and the sales grew, N.O. Brew forged relationships with several of the Nation’s largest specialty and natural distributors including United Natural Foods, Inc (UNFI). It was the relationship with UNFI that would transform N.O. Brew from a local product to a regional coffee leader to a company that, in 2012, had product selling in grocery stores across much of the eastern United States. Every week seems to bring with it an increase in sales and every month brings an increase in retailers and consumers discovering the great taste of N.O. Brew.