NOW LIVE: Eyewitness News

Local Family Revives Philly Classic Horn & Hardart Coffee

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s a Philly classic that’s making a comeback. To do it, the brand is going back to basics.

More than a hundred years ago, Horn & Hardart revolutionized the way people ordered and ate. But it was their coffee that was a household favorite. Now, one local family hopes Horn & Hardart will once again be the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning.

To understand this coffee’s inspiration, you have to go way back. In fact, the original is gone. At 8th and Chestnut, all that remains of the Horn & Hardart Automat is the sign.

It’s the memories that are still fresh for Al and Dawn Mazzone.

“I used to go to the Horn & Hardart with my grandmother,” co-owner Dawn Mazzone recalls. “About age six, she’d let me have some coffee with a lot of cream.”

“Probably the only restaurant I knew until I was a teenager was the automat because that’s where we went,” President Al Mazzone says.

Founded in 1888 by Philly native Joe Horn and Frank Hardart, the restaurant used coin-operated glass and chrome vending machines to dispense food and drinks. Horn & Hardart’s technology revolutionized the food industry.

“It really was a precursor to fast food,” Philadelphia History Museum Director Charles Croce says. “It was inexpensive, high quality, in a very clean, quality environment.”

The automat became the place to see and be seen, attracting politicians and celebrities alike. By the early 1950, there were dozens of automats in Philly. They became even more popular in New York with close to 160 restaurants between the two cities.

Today you can still find some of the original signs and other memorabilia at the Philadelphia History Museum.

The Mazzones say it was the H&H coffee that really set the business apart from others.

“They gained their reputation with the coffee,” Dawn says.

“After 20 minutes, if there was any coffee left, they dumped it and did a fresh pot,” Al recalls.

Not only was it made fresh, H&H introduced the first fresh-drip coffee to Philly.

The Mazzones helped rescue the business from bankruptcy in the 1990s. But by the time they got involved, the recipe was nowhere to be found. So, for more than five years now, Al’s worked to recreate that famous strong yet smooth coffee blend, first by tracking down where the beans came from through decades-old shipping documents, then through the truly time-consuming part.

“I had an easy job,” Al jokes. “I only had to taste about 240 different coffees and blend them together again.”

The result — the original blend now called the Liberty Roast. There’s decaf, espresso, k-cups, too.

“It’s humbling to be involved in something that’s a part of so many people’s lives,” Al says.

Al is working on more blends. Coffee is the focus for now.

Will the automat ever make a comeback? Mazzone says everyone asks. For now, the answer is no, but never say never.

Horn & Hardart Coffee is now available online here: hornandhardartcoffee.com.

More from Jan Carabeo

Watch & Listen LIVE