Updated: Oct 5, 2022
Flavor Waves brings you a special interview this week with Donald Schoenholt of Gillies Coffee, America's Oldest Coffee Merchant. Gillies' has been based in the city that never sleeps, New York City, since 1840. Having been in the coffee industry for almost two centuries, we can all learn from Gillies Coffee inspiring story.
For over 25 years at Flavor Waves, we have specialized in providing high quality flavors to the specialty Coffee & Tea industry. We have had the privilege of working with knowledgeable leaders in these industries to build personal connections and to learn all about their unique talents and stories.
This year FlavorWaves has interviewed six different members of the coffee & tea community to bring you top industry insights, expert knowledge in the brewing industry, and flavor trends. Bringing family-owned coffee & tea businesses in the United States into the spotlight and sharing their stories is something we are very passionate about.
The Gillies family were colonial Scottish immigrants to America, who settled at Newburgh, New York. As financial misery settled on the land, the economically stressed Gillies turned to their son, Wright, to travel down river in the parlance of that day, "seek his fortune in the city." The event is recorded in All About Coffee (Tea & Coffee Trade Journal Company,1922) Wm. H. Ukers; great coffee reference work, known now as then as "The Coffeeman"
"While still a lad of nineteen, Wright Gillies came from a Newburgh farm in 1838 and obtained a clerkship in a tea store on Chatham Street, now Chambers and Duane Street. In 1840, he branched out for himself in the tea and coffee business located at 232 Washington Street and moved in 1843 to 236 Washington Street which had a courtyard where he installed a horse- powered coffee roaster…"
Mr. Gillies’ enterprise prospered, supplying retailers throughout the land as far away as New
Orleans in 1863. Gillies set the 19th Century gold standard in American coffee roasting, holding two patents for coffee roasting (1872), innovating roasting with natural gas (ca. 1909).
By the early years of the 20th Century, the Schoenholt family was active in the New York coffee trade. Schoenholt's expertise and an abiding respect for the Gillies brand presented an opportunity to the Gillies family and their hopes for continuing the heritage of their coffee name into the future. It proved a match well made.
Mac Schoenholt entered the coffee trade around 1912. David L. Schoenholt, who would steer Gillies through the mid-century, entered the trade in 1928. Today, Donald Schoenholt’s credentials include a lifetime of background in all facets of coffee culture. You can find Don’s story here.
In 1975 Don was joined by his Camp Columbia buddy, Hy Chabbott, and together they directed the fortunes of "America’s oldest coffee merchant" for 44 years. Hy passed away
Hy’s son, David Chabbott, joined the old house in 2006. David serves as Vice President of
Operations. With over 15 years of coffee business experience, his good counsel is felt
throughout the company.
About Donald Schoenholt
Donald Schoenholt was surrounded by coffee his entire life. He learned the trade at his father's knee cupping at the age of 11 and roasting at 14. Although Don was known for his coffee palate’s "Perfect Pitch" for identifying coffee. Still, his Dad told him he was destined to go broke due to his legendary sense of green-market ineptitude. Today, Don has been running the family business for 59 years. The little house from Washington Street is still here despite Donald almost always misjudging the “C” Contract.
Don has worked hard to preserve the history of Gillies coffee. He told us during our interview
with him that he frequently would visit thrift stores to buy Gillies memorabilia back that his father had thrown out, believing it to have little if any value. An early retailer of specialty coffee, Gillies coffees, teas and kindred products are marketed directly to fine shops, specialty coffee wholesalers and retailers, chef restaurateurs, hotels, clubs, and private dining rooms throughout the land. An expert at niche marketing specialty coffee products and ideas, Gillies offers green coffee and know-how to roasting retailers, and Your Own Private Label™ coffees to gift shops, and specialty stores. Gillies supports retailers with an extraordinary level of expertise and personal attention.
They have an enviable reputation for their portfolio of custom grade specialties, high level of
knowledge, and tradition of straight dealing. Their love for what they do has not gone unnoticed. Most of their clientele are repeat customers and many of them regularly buy coffee online.
Consistency & The Changing Coffee Landscape
The coffee industry has seen many new developments and trends over the years and GIllies
has had the front row seat for it all. Maintaining consistency over a 182 year journey for Gillies has been no small feat. Navigating The Civil War, The Great Depression, Covid-19 and many other hurdles have presented challenges that they have learned to overcome.
When we asked Don about new developments such as the growing popularity of cold brew and whether the invention of single serve pods has affected Gillies, he shared that Gillies was one of the early adopters of cold brew, though they faced many challenges with it being so new to the market and there was little known at the time about shelf life, storage, delivery etc. They now offer a large selection of cold brew blends which you can find here.
Giving back to the City of New York is an important part of Gillies. Regularly servicing coffee machines free of charge for the fire houses in the city is one example of Gillies' continues to give back to the people of New York.
Green, Roasted & Flavored Coffee
Gillies continues to offer an impressive selection of both roasted and green coffee from around the world. Their single origin green coffees include varieties from Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico and Peru.
Their roasted options include varieties from Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Peru and Tanzania.
In addition to green coffee and their signature roasts, you can also shop for a wide selection of flavored coffee.
Looking to connect with Gillies Coffee? Here is where you can find them!
Build Your Own Custom Flavors
Let our professional team at Flavor Waves help you create and build some amazing custom flavors that are sure to stand out in 2022 for your consumers and your unique brand. Give us a call at 888-968-2783 or contact our customer service team HERE.