LOUISVILLE, KY -- Coffee service industry pioneer John Conti said he is retiring after 52 years in business. "I never thought I'd be ready, but I am," he said.
During 10 months of planning for the transition, Conti worked with advisors Hilliard Lyons. They chose Louisville's Canteen Service Co. of Kentuckiana to take the reins of the john conti Coffee Co.
Conti explained that the Canteen franchise is a locally based business that will maintain the john conti name and team, providing for a seamless transition. "We are thrilled that John chose us to carry on the conti brand and tradition of the best people, product and service," said Canteen Service Co. chief executive Jack Wells.
John Conti started out as a one-man vending operation in 1962. Working out of a garage with a single truck, Conti steadily expanded in full-line vending. Always an innovator, he was intrigued by the emerging office coffee service business and launched his OCS operation at nearly the same time as the new industry was forming the National Coffee Service Association. Conti became an active participant in NCSA and played a leading role, serving as chairman from 1976 to 1978. (NCSA merged into the National Automatic Merchandising Association in 1999.)
Experience in coffee service reinforced his enthusiasm for the product. He started roasting coffee, initially for his own OCS operation. He also opened two coffee shops in area shopping centers, well before retail coffee shops became trendy. His Gourmet Coffee Shoppes won accolades from an area newspaper for serving "the best coffee in town," and that became the company's motto.
As the roasting business grew, Conti began supplying hotel, restaurant and institutional clients. At present, john conti Coffee roasts more than 1.5 million pounds annually. The company also is famous for "contea," a premium iced tea line. It now serves customers in Kentucky, as well as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
In a letter to customers and associates, Conti reported that he and his team have worked long and hard to assure that the change in management is frictionless. "I hope you will wish Janet and me good luck," he said, adding that their plans call for working on their tennis and golf games, and continuing "to check off the items on our lives' bucket list."
Through acquisitions and internal growth, Canteen Service of Kentuckiana has become the second-largest franchise in the Canteen organization, with more than 600 employees. Two years ago, it widened its business-and-industry service footprint by acquiring Williams Food Service, another Louisville pioneer.
Executive vice-president Keith Sharber said, "We are looking forward to providing 'The Best Coffee In Town' for our operation and our customers."