Reflections Of A Coffee Man
By Treena Hein
Stories to celebrate the life and impact of an icon
By Treena Hein
To many in the Canadian and U.S. coffee and coffee service industries,
Stuart Daw was a mentor, a role model, an inspiration and a friend.
To many in the Canadian and U.S. coffee and coffee service industries, Stuart Daw was a mentor, a role model, an inspiration and a friend.
Canadian Vending magazine asked some who knew him professionally and personally to share a few candid stories that illustrate Stuart’s business philosophy – and love of life. Here are their remembrances.
“Along the way, you meet people who are influential in your career and your life, and Stuart was certainly the man who influenced my career the most,” says Fred Steiner, CEO at Imperial Coffee.
“I moved here from the U.S. in 1974 and I had identified a couple of businesses I was interested in going into and one of them was coffee and coffee service. I was introduced to a broker and asked him to put me together a report on the landscape, opportunities etc., and I would pay him for it. Anyway, in the report there was a prevalent name that kept coming up and it was Stuart Daw. ‘The more researching I did and the more I checked, the more his name came up,’ said the guy who wrote the report, ‘so you’d be well advised to call him if you’re interested in going into this business.’
“So of course, I called Stuart. He was a supplier and was interested in anyone who was a prospective new customer, so then we went out to lunch after that and I thought we’d gotten along well. And I was happy, when on a subsequent call he said ‘I think we’re really going to get along well together.’ At that point, I was starting to get a swelled head, thinking that I had impressed him, but instead he then said ‘You eat fast and you talk fast like me, so I know we’re going to get along.’ And that by itself was one basic requirement for judging who he was going to hire and work with, was how fast they ate or got down to business. That’s my first memory of him.
“One time, I remember I had the idea to bring the industry leaders together to discuss issues and so on, so I organized it and had all these prestigious people, competitors and so on at a big meeting planned in my office. We were all waiting that morning for Stuart, who was the last to arrive. Of course, he knew everyone and they knew him – and when he opened the door, and it was quiet for a moment and he took one look around and said ‘Oh my God, it’s the world series of bull___!’ – Everyone roared.
“I was at my first national coffee service association conference in 1974, and I think it was maybe a Saturday, and things were winding down, and another guy and I went by Stuart’s booth to say goodbye, and he said ‘Go to the bar and have a drink and charge it to my room and I’ll get there when I can.’ Well, the other guy and I had a drink and then I took off for the airport. Anyway, it turned out that the other guy had many drinks and got a bit sloshed and proceeded to buy everyone in the bar lunch and drinks on Stuart and Stuart got a bill for $1,100 – and this was 1974! For about a year, he believed I was in cahoots with the guy and barely spoke to me, until the other guy came clean much later.
“The last time I saw him, we laughed over the company in the U.S. that we bought and sold to each other three times. We were first partners in the company, and then we had spat, and we decided, well, one of us should buy the other one out, so I bought him out. Later, I brought another partner in and then Stuart bought my interest in the company and very much later he was heading in other directions and sold his interest back to me.”
“He gave me great advice,” concludes Steiner. “To me, he was larger than life.”
Although Stuart was literally going out the front door at Stuart Branded Foods as Bill Byford (currently business development specialist at Vending Products of Canada) was coming in, his influence on Byford was strong and long-lasting.
“He had sold his interest in the company to move to the U.S., so I missed out on the first hand knowledge he would have passed on to me if he had still been involved in the company, but like others in our industry I still benefited from the articles he wrote and the talks he gave at any coffee function he attended.
“In the past 15 years or so, I was involved with the office coffee association (now part of CAMA). As convention chairman, I often called on Stu to help me out as a speaker for our seminar/business portion of the event. Stu never hesitated and was always a great resource to draw on, and at any time.
“You couldn’t help but learn something about coffee when he spoke but you also couldn’t help learn about how to conduct yourself with others, whether they were customers or competitors. He was a class above many and no matter what the circumstance might have been for meeting Stu, you always walked away with more coffee knowledge – and an appreciation for who he was and what he represented as an industry icon and a fantastic human being.”
Dick Middleton was a former employee and long-term partner with Stu.
“He was my best friend,” Dick says. “I consider myself a very lucky chap to have crossed paths with him 45 years ago.
“He always put others before himself. He would never ask anyone to do anything he wouldn’t do. He worked like an animal. He had two lives in his lifetime. If he’d have had a computer and cellphone, he’d have had four or five lifetimes. When he was done work for the day, when most of us would go to bed or relax, he would pull out philosophy and begin the reading part of his day. He was a big fan of Ayn Rand.
“Stuart had an eidetic memory. He could remember things, no matter how far back. He could quote Shakespeare verbatim and so on. I’m sure he was MENSA. We used to play a little game and name the six German pocket battleships back and forth to each other. Well, one time, we were with a bunch of people and out of the blue, he called out to me, and said ‘Dickie, name them for us.’ So I rattled them off, and he then said, ‘I’m going to give you all the ships in the Battle of Bismarck,’ and he did it, and I stood there dumbfounded. He could multiply four digit numbers by themselves, and he could add up all his groceries and hand the cashier at the checkout the exact amount.
“Stuart liked to sing, and he could remember all the words to so many songs. His favourite song was My Way. One time, we were at an exclusive place, a fancy shirt-and-tie place after a sales meeting, in a room with about 500 to 600 people, and Stuart had asked the band to play his favourite song early in the evening. Well, later when they finally did, he just got up and went to the front of the room and grabbed the mic and started to sing. Well, we were all very surprised – and we were very aware that bouncers were coming from either side of the room towards him, let me tell you – but the band leader waved them away and let him sing. And he kept singing with them for quite a few songs. And he ended up singing with the same group another time when they all happened to be in Calgary together!
“Another time, we had a big sales meeting in Winnipeg and before leaving, we were crammed into the airport bar and it was a good-sized bar, just packed with people, and he started telling stories and pretty soon, everyone in the whole bar was hanging on every word. They all cheered and clapped when he was leaving because they wanted him to keep telling stories. He had an amazing way with humanity. I could hardly talk from pain in my stomach from laughing when I got on the plane.”
“My Way was his favourite song because he did things his way,” says Sam Neill, president of Vending Products of Canada and a longtime colleague and friend of Stuart’s. “He was very creative. He would write music as well as sing.
“He was the quintessential entrepreneur, no doubt about it. He left and went to the U.S., to a much more entrepreneurial country than Canada. In Canada in the early days, he was a pioneer, the first or second person to see the opportunity in office coffee. It didn’t take him long to see an opportunity and he’d go for it.
“He was a true gentleman. He was a mentor to me, and he taught me integrity and honesty. I remember in the early 1970s in Winnipeg, we made a mistake with a customer’s price and this man had 24 cafeterias and he was going to find another supplier. Well, Stuart flew in to meet with him and talked with him and told him he would honour the price he had if the man would agree to a two-year contract instead of one and this guy agreed. Stuart turned a negative into a positive and that’s the kind of guy he was. He was a real people person. I respected him and I will miss him.”
Stuart Daw passed away on Feb. 10 in Florida at Woodside Hospice Center. Stuart fought a five-month battle with astrocytoma, a primary brain cancer. To Canadian Vending magazine readers, Stuart was the man behind “Reflections in a Cup,” his regularly featured column on the coffee industry, philosophy . . . and, well, life. His column was featured in a number of industry publications and offered his wisdom to many.
For those of us who learned the industry by need and not experience, he was a tremendous source of knowledge, patience and guidance. Our publications were enriched by his willingness to share his industry wisdom.
Rest in peace, Mr. Daw.