From its century-old history in Philadelphia, to its signature French drip coffee and automat dining style, Horn and Hardart was a familiar name for many families in the Northeast beginning in 1902 through the 1960’s. This brand has made a comeback, thanks to veteran-turned-entrepreneur Al Mazzone.
Al has founded & co-founded over 12 companies in a wide range of industries. He currently serves as the Chairman of Horn & Hardart Coffee. Driven by a passion for building and an inherent sense of curiosity, he continues to pursue his interests in technology, coffee, and the arts.
However, like most members of the Bunker Labs community, Mazzone began his career as a member of the United States Armed Forces.
“I am one of the few people who was drafted for the war,” said Al. He was drafted for a military engineering company in Germany during the Vietnam War, and eventually volunteered for a tactical project in Vietnam in the late 1960’s. “I think the military brings a perspective to business that most civilians don’t have,” he continued. “The risks in business are generally financial and maybe emotional…it is much easier to recover from a business failure than a combat failure.”
Four years after returning from Vietnam, Mazzone began working for a market research company in California. The founder of the company had a passion for wine, and approached Al about starting an importing company in the 1970’s.
“We would work with market research during the regular work hours, 9AM to 5PM, then we would do our wine business from 6PM to midnight, seven days a week,” remarked Al.
After several years of working in California, Al decided to return to Vietnam for a visit.
“I went back in 1991, before the embargo was lifted,” said Mazzone. “It was very interesting and emotional. I did a peace ceremony with a former North Vietnamese officer as an example.”
Following his return from this trip, Mazzone was asked if he would be interested in contributing to the revival of Horn and Hardart Coffee Company, a brand he fondly remembered as a popular automat during his childhood. Because of his personal connection and experience in the wine industry, Al eventually accepted the offer.
“There were a lot of parallels to the wine business: agricultural factors, looking at the soil’s potential, a grading system for the product itself, the way it was processed…it was easy for me to learn about coffee because of this, and because I enjoy getting fascinated by new things,” said Mazzone.
As investors, Al and his wife Dawn worked to bring Horn & Hardart out of bankruptcy in the late 1990’s. Determined to rebuild this historic Philadelphia icon, Al began focusing on the quality and recipe behind Horn & Hardart’s classic coffee blend.
After extensively taste-testing over 200 different coffees, he reached what is now sold as the Liberty Roast on the Horn & Hardart website.
“I wanted to carry on the Horn and Hardart legacy I grew up with,” said Mazzone. “I’m from Atlantic City, but had lots of relatives in the New York and Philly areas. Our family was so big that automat-style places were the only places large enough to seat all of us at once. Horn and Hardart was a big part of my childhood, and I was given the chance to help bring it back.”
Like many service members returning from the Vietnam War, Al did not speak of his veteran status for many years, due to the controversy surrounding the war.
“I didn’t talk about being a veteran for almost ten years after getting back, and even after then I didn’t mention it much until I became involved with Bunker,” said Al.
Al learned about Bunker Labs Philadelphia through a good friend of his this past summer. “I was surprised at how many people I already knew from past experiences,” he remarked. “It’s such a positive community where I’ve felt at ease with the conversations about being a veteran, and that has helped provide closure for a topic I did not speak of much in past years.”
After attending our 2017 Muster, Al noted how impressed he was with what he calls the “new generation of veterans”:
“I’m so impressed with the people I’ve met through Bunker,” he said. “There is such a phenomenal spirit of ambition and focus on creating legacies. It has been really amazing to see the kinds of things these veteran entrepreneurs are accomplishing today.”
Horn and Hardart Coffee Co. currently runs a fully online marketplace for its coffee, but is looking to expand to a possible brick-and-mortar location in the future. To learn more about Horn & Hardart, and to purchase online, click here.