Meet John Ellis
The Inspiring Story of the Real Life John Ellis
The Thirteen-Year-Old Entrepreneur
In 1908, a thirteen year old boy named John Ellis purchased the 54-year-old importing company he worked for. He renamed it after himself – John Ellis & Bro. Teas and Coffees – and it would go on to become one of the oldest family-owned and operated coffee roasters in the U.S.
The John Ellis & Bro. Teas and Coffee Company store opened at 205 South 11th Street in Philadelphia selling imported coffee, tea, dried fruit, and nuts. In order to get his store noticed, Ellis had a giant metal coffee pot made and would place it on the sidewalk in front of his store whenever it was open. The big coffee pot became a hallmark of the company, and the store became a hit. When the company moved their retail operation and headquarters in 1929 to a larger space on South 16th Street, the innovative John Ellis had a much larger vision – he would commission a 22-foot tall, 12 foot wide giant Coffee Pot to sit atop his new building.
Innovator, Artisan, and Visionary
The coffee pot was made of reinforced concrete, covered in terra cotta, then covered again with chromium plates, standing on a terraced base. As if this gargantuan coffee pot wasn’t noticeable enough, Ellis developed and fabricated a system of pipes that would lead steam and smoke from the company’s roasting ovens through the spout of the giant pot. The scent of freshly roasted coffee would then carry itself to the surrounding blocks. The whole system was set to a clock that would discharge the steam and smoke at regular intervals. At night, the pot was lit up and was said to be visible from miles away. The pot became a symbol of the company. Images of it appeared on their advertisements, correspondence, and trucks. Ellis even had a truck tricked out to look like the coffee pot!
John Ellis’ Legacy
John Ellis passed away in 1964 but his contributions to the company he started continue to this very day. The Ellis “Barista Boy” logo, inspired by young 13-year-old John Ellis himself, has become synonymous with the Ellis Brand. It can be found on nearly all the company’s packaging, marketing, and a 8-foot John Ellis greets visitors from the Philadelphia Roastery’s parking lot.