Though famous coffee-maker Maxwell House wasn’t founded in Jacksonville, it still feels like a crucial part of the city’s local identity.
The brand’s towering manufacturing plant along Bay Street in downtown Jax is also its last remaining manufacturing plant in the country, having survived several rounds of closures. The smell of its various roasts permeates the air for miles – and has done so for over 100 years.
The origins of Maxwell House’s presence in Jacksonville can be traced all the way back to 1910. That year, entrepreneur Joel Cheek’s rapidly-expanding Cheek-Neal Coffee Company opened a plant on the opposite side of Bay Street to produce its popular coffee, which was named after the Maxwell House Hotel that first served it.
By 1924 the company needed more space and built a new facility at 735 E. Bay Street – the plant that still exists today.
In the late ‘20s, the company was sold off to General Foods. The Cheek family stuck around in Jax for a while, though; Joel’s son, Leon, commissioned a grand house along River Boulevard that was designed by noted architect Roy Benjamin.
The Maxwell House brand grew like crazy throughout most of the 20th century, with the company’s successful “Good to the last drop” marketing campaign setting their product apart from competitors, in part driven by an urban legend that President Theodore Roosevelt had coined the catchphrase himself upon sampling a cup.
In 1990, General Foods merged into Kraft, Inc., leading to internal restructuring that caused Maxwell House to look into closing one of its manufacturing plants. The potential closures were narrowed down to two options: the Jax plant, or a similar one in Hoboken, NJ.
A large campaign involving both city leaders and residents ensued, aimed at convincing Maxwell House to stay in Jacksonville. “Keep Max in Jax,” as the campaign was dubbed, was a huge success, convincing the brand to not only stay in Jax, but to double down on its commitment to the city with a multi-million dollar expansion to its existing facility.
The plant in Hoboken was shut down, and several other plants have been closed since, but Jax’s plant has survived to become the last remaining Maxwell House plant in the U.S.
Today, Maxwell House employs hundreds of local workers and generates hundreds of millions of dollars of yearly economic impact for the Northeast Florida region.
Earlier this year, Kraft-Heinz indicated that they’re looking into the possibility of selling off Maxwell House. Hopefully, if and when that sale happens, the brand’s new ownership will be committed to keeping its production centered in Jacksonville for years to come.