SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Coffee is not what comes to mind when you think of baseball legend Jackie Robinson — at least, not yet.
“Jackie Robinson actually worked for Chock Full o’ Nuts for about seven years,” brand manager Laura Templeton told WAVY.
They actually have a copy of Robinson’s retirement to Major League Baseball, written on their company letterhead. The brand started in New York and was purchased in 2005 by Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA, which roasts and packages the coffee in Suffolk.
“He was clearly not hired as a figurehead or as someone famous you would hire and put into the company — he worked,” said senior brand manager Dennis Crawford.
Unlike today’s mega-millionaires, major league players in Robinson’s day often worked in the off-season or post-retirement. Robinson worked as the vice president of personnel.
In an old black and white video produced by the company and narrated by Robinson, he talks about why he decided to take the job and what he did at the company.
“Generally, I meet with Mr. Black to go over new employee programs, brief him on my activities and discuss new company policies, or to get an occasional bawling out,” Robinson said.
Chock Full o’ Nuts owner and founder William Black admired Robinson’s courage and character, and wanted him to connect with Black employees in his coffee shops.
“Mr. Black himself was seen as a progressive entrepreneur and also as a leader in his relationships with African Americans,” Crawford said.
Fast forward a few decades, and the coffee company gets a call from the Jackie Robinson Foundation, with a request to create something special to commemorate their former co-worker 75 years after he broke the color barrier.
“We designed this can to show images of Jackie Robinson so you can see him as an athlete and you can see him as an executive,” Templeton said.
Part of the proceeds will benefit the foundation, which will open a museum this year in New York City and provides scholarship and leadership development for minority students. The was founded in 1973 by Robinson’s wife, Rachel Robinson, who’s months away from turning 100 years old.
They will crank out about 10 million cans, the first of which should show up soon on store shelves. You can also buy them online and raise a cup to a trailblazer.