Coffee Legend Award Shines Spotlight On OCS History

by Kevin Daw
Posted On: 10/5/2017

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This month, the National Automatic Merchandising Association put out a request for candidate submissions for the association's 2017 Coffee Legend award. This got me thinking about all of those worthy of the title. There are a good many candidates out there, likely including some I'm not familiar enough with to champion. And by the time some of you read this, NAMA might have revealed this year's legend.

Around the time I got the invitation to submit my suggestions, I heard the news that James "Jimmy" Zirakian had passed. "Mr. Z," as he was affectionately called by those close to him, was a wonderful gentleman I got to know well, as I was one of his suppliers and a good friend of his son, Jimmy Zirakian Jr.

I was an energetic young salesman when I first met Mr. Z, and what really impressed me was how I, as a salesman, was greeted with a warm reception the first time I made a call on Coffee Man, his Washington, DC-based coffees service operation. Some businesses offer a fairly neutral reception -- some are downright chilly (verging on hostile) to sales folks -- but not Mr. Z. With his perennial pipe stuck in the corner of his mouth, he'd give me a smile and ask if I'd like a coffee before I had barely gotten a greeting out. This attitude seemed to trickle down to the staff that was all busy, yet wonderful with which to deal. That type of office atmosphere at Coffee Man is something that benefits everyone.

Mr. Z. was actively involved in the Mid-Atlantic Coffee Service Association, one of the regional associations that participated in forming the National Coffee Service Association, while continuing for well over a decade as a strong and effective forum for operators in the states it covered. That goes back further than this author can recall, and I would leave it to longer-standing industry veterans to fill the portions of that storied past to which they might add some color. If this history is not "on file" in NAMA's archives, it would be a great project to undertake its collection before it is lost to history. Vending Times editor Tim Sanford is a fount of knowledge on our industry and might help to carry that torch.

In remembering Mr. Z., my thoughts naturally fell upon others in the industry who have made an impact, not only in association work and involvement, but also on me. My fellow Vending Times columnist Len Rashkin comes to mind as someone who has been involved as long as I can remember, with great input and welcome advice on any coffee-related topic. If I'm ever asked where I was when the O.J. verdict was handed down, my response will be: in Len's company breakroom, where a large part of his staff was gathered, glued to the lunchroom TV screen while I attempted to brew samples for Len's consideration. (That was one of my more unusual sales calls.)

Ken Shea is also someone whom I admire, and who strikes me as a good candidate. I believe the first time I met Ken I was likely in cutoffs and a t-shirt, picking up an order for our vending and snack service in Tampa Bay in the days when he oversaw the local Servatron branch. Even then he presented a confident charm that has only grown with the years, and he seems to never tire of helping out where needed when the industry calls.

Tim Sanford himself has been in the industry for a very long time and is like a walking hard drive filled with knowledge of who did what, where, when and why. I can only wonder what I might have achieved in life had I been gifted with a memory like his. If it happened in or to our industry, he likely covered it, wrote about it and conveyed his wisdom upon the subject to those who asked.

Butch Winkler of Holiday House Distributing Co. has always impressed me with the ceaseless energy he has used to create and grow his company, as well as a long and strong involvement in industry associations. The first time I visited Butch and his wife Lynn, they were working out of their garage. A year or two later, they had built a separate building on their property to accommodate Holiday House's growth, and not long after that, I was slightly late for a meeting with them as I tried to find their new large facility. Butch has always been very supportive of industry trade shows, and I've had the pleasure of sitting with him on a few industry committees, mainly from the supplier side. He has a sharp eye for detail and a keen perspective on pending issues.

There are a great many more I could cite, like Rick Pavlic, Shae Pavlic, Tom Williams, Steve Hyde and Jay McMenamin, among other legends, but I've used up my allotted word count and those stalwarts all know I have great respect for them and their contribution to the coffee industry. If there is a silver lining to impending silver hair, it is that the memories run warm and deep, and I look forward to creating many more with all of you.

Until next month, may your cup run full, and the brew exquisite.

» KEVIN DAW is president of Heritage Coffee Co. (London, ON, Canada), a private-label roaster serving the breaktime management industries. A 30-year veteran of OCS, water delivery and vending operations, he has concentrated on coffee roasting for the past two decades.