It’s remarkable for a family-owned business to withstand a century’s worth of cultural and economic changes, not to mention several generations of leaders. But Superior’s ARCO Coffee Company has reached this monumental achievement—100 years in business.
G.A. Andresen and W.J. Ryan founded the business in Duluth in 1916 as Andresen Ryan Coffee Company. Their names were later combined into the acronym ARCO.
The coffee roaster, now located in a nondescript warehouse at 2206 Winter St. in Superior, has an old-school approach—relying on building personal relationships and providing great customer service.
“Customers are why our business exists—we do what we can to take care of our customers,” says company president Donald Andresen, grandson of co-founder G.A. Anderson. “From my personal point of view, that’s what sets us apart.”
Andresen says customer loyalty and selling a quality product both factor into the company’s longevity. Even during the Great Depression, people continued to buy ARCO though there were cheaper options available. Among the company’s charming collection of memorabilia is a letter from his grandfather to customers thanking them for their business and announcing it was ARCO’s best year yet.
ARCO employees tend to have long tenures, which helps with consistency in product and customer service. Andresen says when he started working for ARCO full-time in 1985, a salesman was retiring who spent 50 years with the company. He says ARCO currently employs 20 people, several of which have been with the company for 15 years or more.
ARCO doesn’t do a lot of marketing, relying instead on word of mouth. Younger people tend to be unaware ARCO is a local company or that it exists at all. Some think of it as a brand their parents or grandparents drink. Andresen says he recently came across a woman at a local grocery store with a bag of ARCO in her cart. He thanked her and struck up a conversation, learning that she loved the Norseman Grog. She was surprised and pleased to learn ARCO is roasted in the Twin Ports.
Despite the limited marketing, the ARCO brand has evolved over the years to keep up with changes in the coffee industry. It’s best known for its original house blend (still available at restaurants like Bridgeman’s) and flavored coffees like the Norseman Grog, but ARCO also offers fair-trade and organic coffees, unroasted green coffee beans and single-origin coffees.
Andresen says organic and fair trade coffee is a growing market that he enjoys offering because he likes the idea of ARCO, as a family-owned company, doing business with family-owned coffee farms.
The company sells wholesale to restaurants and other businesses. Most of its customers are within 100 miles, although it does ship around the United States and to some accounts farther afield.
ARCO is available for sale in Super One stores. Single serve cups (compatible with Keurig machines) are one of the company’s new offerings, sparked by customer demand. Some varieties are already available online and the pods will be in stores early next year.
It’s important to note that not all varieties ARCO roasts are available in-store but those curious to try (or retry) the brand can order online. ARCO even offers free samples of coffee to people willing to pay for shipping.
Customers can expect the coffee to be freshly roasted. “Our goal is to roast to order, as close as possible to when a customer places an order so that it’s super fresh. You can taste that difference,” says Andresen.
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