by Len Lear
After 69 years in business and with inventions to their credit that revolutionized the coffee industry, the Melikian family has “grounds” for success. It might not even be hyperbole to say that today’s coffee craze — with Starbucks and their clones seemingly on every other block in America and countless other countries — might be more of a popgun than a cannon if it were not for the Melikians.
Cyrus Melikian, who died Nov. 27, 2008, at the age of 88, grew up in the city’s Frankford section in a working class family. While serving in the U.S. Army Air Force in 1944, Melikian wanted a cup of coffee at the post exchange at Wright Field in Ohio. He was told the PX was not serving coffee between meals, so he and a friend, Capt. Lloyd K. Rudd, reluctantly got cold sodas from a vending machine.
“I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you could get hot coffee that way, from a vending machine?’” Cyrus told me in an interview several years before he passed away. “Then you could have it at any time, day or night. I looked into it and discovered that a vending machine serving hot beverages simply did not exist at that time.”
When they left the military at the end of World War II, Rudd and Melikian, who had studied engineering and business at the University of Pennsylvania, raised $25,000 from investors and added $30,000 of their own to start Rudd-Melikian, Inc. After nine months of work, the duo gave birth to the nation’s first hot coffee vending machine in Cy’s basement.
In November of 1946, the machine was put to the acidic (as in coffee beans) test during a Philadelphia Eagles’ game at the old Shibe Park in North Philadelphia (later, Connie Mack Stadium). “We sold the coffee for 10 cents a cup,” Cy recalled, “and people loved it because it was a very cold day. We could not make it fast enough to meet the demand.”
In 1947 Rudd and Melikian grossed $1 million in sales and were manufacturing 40 coffee vending machines a week at a factory in North Philly. In the late 1950s the company went public; by 1965 they had 300 employees, and sales had percolated up to $7 million.
In 1967 Rudd and Melikian sold their company for an undisclosed amount, and Rudd retired to California. (Rudd died in 1997 at the age of 75.) The company, whose name was changed to RMI (Refreshment Machinery, Inc.), became the world’s largest maker of coffee vending machines.
But instead of lying on a Florida beach and sipping from his steamy success, Cyrus began brewing up another batch of bubbly broth. In 1969 he started Automatic Brewers & Coffee Devices, Inc. (ABCD). For 10 years the firm was located in Horsham but then outgrew that site and has been in a 12,000-square-foot building at 10 Union Hill Rd. in Conshohocken ever since.
In 1965 Cy and another engineer, Harry Klaus, perfected a machine that makes espresso coffee “pods” — hermetically sealed, nitrogen-flushed foil pouches filled with enough ground espresso beans for one or two cups. (Espresso coffee is made by forcing steam through finely ground coffee beans.) For many years the company has been producing millions of pods a year and selling them — along with grinders — to upscale hotels and restaurants all over the world.
According to Wikipedia, “Cyrus was instrumental in several other inventions (in addition to the hot coffee vending machines), including coffee pods, post-mix vendor icemakers and in-machine coffee bean grinders. Melikian also established the Flavor-Maker Culinary Chef’s Training School and taught there for 10 years. Melikian was awarded with the Person of the Year Award by the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal in 2002.”
After Rudd-Melikian was sold and became RMI, Cyrus and his sons founded ABCD, Inc., in Conshohocken. Cy had designed a method of sandwiching finely ground roast coffee between two long strips of filter paper, supplied in rolls for the RMI fresh-brew machine.
Cy’s son, Robert, 69, and ABCD, Inc., have also helped create UpShot, a fully recyclable single cup filter that brews coffee and tea in Keurig-compatible single cup brewers. ABCD grinds and packs roasters and coffee into these SingleCupper filters. The UpShot filter holds much more coffee and, according to ABCD, “delivers a richer experience in the cup.”
ABCD sells these filters, which are manufactured in Cicero, Illinois, all over the country. SingleCupper is consumed primarily by end-user customers at home, at work, in hotel rooms, etc. “We can pack on average 22,000 filters in an 8-hour work shift on one packaging line,” said Robert last week. “We have just purchased another one that will hopefully more than double our output.”
For more information call 610-828-6000 or visit www.abcd-pods.com.