The Way It Was
Cadillac Coffee Co., 1937
photograph courtesy of Cadillac Coffee Co.
In the pantheon of the famous Detroit food and beverage manufacturers Cadillac Coffee Co., doesn’t have the same brand recognition as Stroh’s, Vernor’s, Vlasic, Kowalski, Sanders, Better Made, Awrey’s, or Faygo, but Cadillac has roots that reach back 130 years, to 1888. Perhaps the company didn’t establish such a strong public connection because it doesn’t perform as a “b-to-c,” or business-to-consumer model. Instead, Cadillac sells its roasts, along with teas and syrups, to restaurants, hotels, convenience stores, and other businesses. Chances are that even if you haven’t heard the brand Cadillac, you probably have tasted it. The company began with Richard Steven Gehlert selling java to merchants, clubs, and restaurants in Michigan, New York, and Ohio. The first roasting plant, pictured here on West Jefferson Avenue downtown, was built in 1903 and known as the Gehlert Coffee Co., or more commonly as “The House of Gehlert.” The salesmen and service techs are seen here with their trucks sometime in the 1930s. In 1929, the name was changed to the R.S. Gehlert Co., and, in the 1950s, the appellation was altered again to the Cadillac Coffee Co. It was also in the 1950s that the West Jefferson location shuttered because the city was buying up land to make way for the construction of Cobo Hall, according to current Cadillac Coffee Co. President Guy Gehlert. These days, the company is still happily perking along. The headquarters are in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but there are warehouses in Michigan, and Cadillac serves customers in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Cadillac is also the exclusive distributor in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, of the Italian coffee brand Illycaffè.