Our History

Over 40 years of Evolution





1972 to 1984: Craft and Community

1972 The Early Years

ch1_restaurant_smPaul and Joan move to the Mendocino Coast, establish Thanksgiving Coffee at the Mendocino Hotel, and begin roasting coffee for the Hotel café. At the time this was our only account. We roasted on a Royal #5 twenty-five pound capacity coffee roaster. Sales were approximately fifty pounds each week at $2.50 per pound.

The Thanksgiving Coffee Restaurant, circa 1974.

In 1972 Thanksgiving Coffee was just one of many cottage hippie businesses. Nobody had heard of specialty coffee. It was the era of free love, psychedelics, Kent State the Vietnam War, Nixon’s Watergate, Jefferson Starship, and a renewed commitment to alternative energy by California Governor Jerry Brown.

Everyone living in Mendocino was having a good time or escaping bad times. It was a time the urban young got on the road and found rural America was still real. We liked what we stumbled upon and stayed on.

Thanksgiving Coffee focused on making a positive contribution to the local community. The causes were local and the business reflected the founder’s relationship to their community. During this time the California wine industry was becoming famous and California cuisine was all about Alice Waters and Chez Panise. Thanksgiving Coffee grew up surrounded by this culture and a Roastmaster was born.

1973 Humble Beginnings

ch1_1974a_smBehind the Ship the San Juan, built in 1931 is the oldest building on the Noyo Harbor. Built before the great earthquake of 1906, it is what remains of the two story building that it once was. When the earthquake hit, it created a landslide knocking the first story right out from under the second story. Creative lumbermen jacked up what was left, mounted it on the dock and in 1974 Thanksgiving Coffee Company moved in to the eastern corner, occupying an area 30 feet by 20 feet. The building is sixty feet long by thirty feet wide. It is constructed 100% of old growth Redwood and Douglas Fir. Half of the building is on land with the other half on the dock over the water. The photo was taken in 1975. Note the puff of smoke and the Thanksgiving Coffee sign atop the structure.

The company operated out of those digs from 1974 until 1987, going from just Joan and Paul to 26 employees after we purchased the entire building in 1977.

The San Juan was owned by Albert Reynolds and Bruce Abernathy at the time and was actively used to drag cable across the Pacific when the communications cable was laid from Point Arena to Japan in 1975. It is 71 feel long and as of 2009 is the last remaining ship of its type still afloat. It is still moored at our dock but has not been out of the water in 30 years and I am afraid it is no longer seaworthy.

ch1_1974b_smWe purchased the building in 1975 and the company still owns it today. We use it for storage and keep it to remind us of our humble beginnings, and of all the amazing old salts, cranky fishermen, and drunken parties that were a frequent part of our lives on the water when the Noyo Harbor was just another “Cannery Row” along the Pacific Coast complete with “fish houses” where local woman filleted fifty pound King Salmon, iced three pound crabs and packed Black Cod fillets for shippment to Eastern markets to be smoked and sold as “smoked sablefish” to the Jewish Delis in Chicago and New YorK City.

All that is gone now (2009) but the memory still remains. I guess you can say, “those were the good old days.”



Joan Katzeff in the Thanksgiving Coffee Restaurant.

Paul and Joan Katzeff open Thanksgiving Restaurant in Fort Bragg, California and begin roasting coffee for local bed and breakfasts and restaurants.

After two years of roasting coffee the company had five products organized by roast color. These were the first specialty coffees to be marketed by roast color and the first packages to have a pull date.

 Supermarket Display

Coffee fixtureAmerica’s first Specialty Coffee free standing supermarket display Circa 1974, was designed by Paul Katzeff after seeing a wine bottle display in Granzella’s Deli in Williams, California.

The fixture was made of oak 1/4 inch plywood with redwood moulding and facings. Along it’s right side but not shown in this Flyer was a shelf that held the Grindmaster 500 model Grinder and it’s splash tray.

We built about 50 of these package displays before they became obsolete as bulk bins became an important next step as the industry expanded into the Health Food Stores of the day. This fixture was truly the beginning of the specialty coffee attack on the mainstream canned coffees, taking the product into the isles where it became a differentiated product and not the commodity that was canned coffee of the time.



Paul Katzeff at the new roasting plant in Noyo Harbor.

Thanksgiving Restaurant sold to parners and becomes the Greenhouse restaurant. Paul and Joan relocate to a 400 square foot space on the Noyo Harbor just south of Fort Bragg. This was a most romantic spot! It was surrounded by a very active fishery. Artisan shop builders, boat captains, engine repair merchants, crazies, old salts, fiesty fisherman poets, and cranky deck hands. We fit in because we were roasting coffee — who ever heard of that! It was Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row” in the flesh!

We roasted coffee in the middle of all this for 15 years. We traded coffee for fish to eat! Where craftsmanship was an every day affair, we took our first steps toward our own form of craftsmanship-coffee roasting.


Thanksgiving Coffee needed more space and purchased the remaining 1400 squre feet of the old wooden warehouse. It was built in the late 1800s out of virgin redwood and douglas fir (the oldest structure on the dock). A trawler built in 1931 called the San Juan was moored to the pilings that held up the river side of the warehouse we were to call home until 1987.


Sales of roasted coffee reach 200 lbs/day. It was challenging to keep up with our growing sales with a roaster that was only capable of producing 35 pounds/hour. Thanksgiving purchased a 1/2 bag (75 pound capacity) Sivitz roaster.

This was a major departure from our Royal #5 in that the the “Sivitz Roaster” was a fluidized bed roaster. Much like a modern popcorn popper, the beans floated on a bed of hot air.


Thanksgiving becomes the first specialty coffee roaster to sell to a major grocery chain (Safeway).


Thanksgiving Coffee is the founding charter member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).


CEO Paul Katzeff becomes the third president of the Specialty Coffee Association. He hosts the first SCAA conference entitled, “Coffee, Human Rights, and Third World Economies.”

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1985 to 1998: Not Just A Cup, But A Just Cup

The Formative Years


Nicargua. Photo: Paul Katzeff

There was a revolution happening in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas were in control of the government after overthrowing the Somoza regime in 1979 after more than 40 years in power. CEO Paul Katzeff arrived six years later. There was a civil war taking place between the Sandinistas and the U.S. backed Contras when he arrived and an embargo was in place. Thanksgiving sued the Regan White House. This period of time was a transition from a company focused specifically on the product to one more focused on the people.

“Not Just a Cup, But a Just Cup” was born on Paul’s first flight back from Nicaragua on April 17th, 1985.



Coffee For Peace Label.

Paul visits Nicaragua for the first time.

President Reagan declares an embargo on Nicaragua.

Thanksgiving creates Coffee For Peace and brings coffee into U.S. through Canada in defiance of the U.S embargo.

Thanksgiving sues Reagan, Bush, and Meese to end the Embargo.

Paul Katzeff becomes the third president of the Specialty Coffee Association.



Thanksgiving moves roasting plant and purchases 150 lbs Sivitz roaster. Sales volume reaches 2500 lbs/day.


Introduction of Beyond Organic brochure, which sets guidelines for next decades goals.

Focusing on Organic

We set a goal in 1990 to become 100% organic. At the time Mexico and Guatemala were the only countries producing organic coffee. Times were good—Clinton was in with his saxophone and progressive agenda that included NAFTA, a very bad idea for the people of Central America, but there was a lot of money around. It was a good time to introduce organic coffee to the masses.


Song Bird Coffee introduced in collaboration with the American Birding Association (ABA). Thanksgiving collaborates with the ABA to market the country’s first certified shade grown coffee.

The Smithsonian Migratory Birding Institute confirms that there is a link between shade grown coffee and biodiversity.

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1999 to 2002: Sustainability

Focusing on the Environment and Fair Trade

Thanksgiving Coffee begins to look inward to mitigate and reduce its environmental impact.



Cupping Lab in Nicargua. Photo: Ben Corey-Moran

Four college interns work for a summer at Thanksgiving Coffee. They create the company’s first ever environmental audit. Many of the audit’s recommendation were implemented: worm composting (vermiculture) for food waste, the use of a biodiesel as an alternative to diesel fuel, and the purchasing of more green office supplies.

Thanksgiving Coffee receives a $300,000 grant from USAID to build coffee cupping labs to improve the quality of coffee in Nicaragua. The company begins to develop its first close working relationship with a cooperative. We begin to learn about coffee from the Campesinos (farmers) perspective.

Second licensee to sign up with TransFair USA, the only certifying agency of Fair Trade coffee in the U.S. Fair Trade guarantees a minimum floor price for farmers.


Thanksgiving Coffee pays non-profit Trees for the Future to plant approximately 22,500 multi-purpose fast growing trees in Ethiopia to offset the CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions from Thanksgiving’s roasting operations.

Paul Katzeff writes A Cupper’s Manifesto, which details coffee proccessing from bean to cup. The book also explains coffee cupping techniques for determining the quality of coffee. 6,000 copies were distributed in Nicragua, 5,000 in Colombia, and 2,000 in Peru.

Thanksgiving earns Waste Reduction Award from the California Integrated Waste Management Board for its outstanding waste reduction efforts.



Tree seedlings in Rwanda.

Trees for the Future agree to plant an additional 48,000 trees to offset the CO2 from the brewing of coffee by Thanksgiving’s customers (estimated to be 40,000 million cups, which produced 1,300 tons of CO2). The cost per tree is only 8 cents!

Thanksgiving earns Waste Reduction Award from the California Integrated Waste Management Board for its outstanding waste reduction efforts.

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2003 to the present: Africa and Beyond


Thanksgiving Co-Founders Joan and Paul Katzeff are invited to play an advisory role to a USAID-funded coffee cooperative development project in Rwanda. While visiting Rwanda, Joan forges a partnership with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and creates Gorilla Fund Coffee.

Thanksgiving earns Waste Reduction Award from the California Integrated Waste Management Board for its outstanding waste reduction efforts.

2004 February


Anastase Minani of Rwanda with the future of Nicaragua. Photo: Ben Corey-Moran, 2004

Thanksgiving hosts a delegation of 5 Rwandan farmers in Nicaragua. Over the course of 10 days, the group visits 5 cooperatives and sows the seeds of a farmer-to-farmer network spanning two continents. During this visit Thanksgiving meets Anastase Minani, director of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, and establishes a strong relationship with his cooperative.

Kulanu.org’s Laura Wetzler approaches CEO Paul Katzeff requesting help in supporting a cooperative of 250 Jewish, Christian, and Muslim coffee farmers in Uganda. Paul agrees to buy the cooperative’s entire harvest, and establishes our partnership with the Peace Kawomera Cooperative.

The Specialty Coffee Association of America recognizes Thanksgiving’s work in Rwanda with the first annual Sustainability Award.


Thanksgiving begins marketing Mirembe Kawomera “Delicious Peace” Coffee to faith-based communities, establishing the foundation for an interfaith movement of churches, synagogues, and mosques working to support the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish farmers of the Peace Kawomera Cooperative in Uganda.



Thanksgiving establishes its partnership with Bikes to Rwanda and raises money for a bike shop to maintain the new fleet of cargo bikes at the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative in Rwanda.

Thanksgiving’s Ben Corey-Moran and Sarah Bodnar visit Ethiopia in search of a beautiful coffee and establish a partnership with the Sidama Farmers Cooperative Union in Southern Ethiopia.

Co-founder Paul Katzeff receives the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Thanksgiving Coffee Company, The Peace Kawomera Cooperative, and Kulanu are honored with the prestigious Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award from The Tufts Institute for Global Leadership.

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