Alice Foote MacDougall
1867 - 1951
1867 - 1951
In 1994, Caroline was designing the first labels for Teeccino to picture scenes from different Mediterranean countries where the ingredients in Teeccino grow. She wanted to give the feeling that one was sitting in a beautiful Mediterranean café while sipping a cup of Teeccino.
On a trip to New York while enjoying a cup of Teeccino with her sister, Caroline reminisced that their great grandmother, Alice Foote MacDougall, owned a chain of coffee and waffle restaurants in New York City during the early 1900’s. She then remembered that Alice had decorated each of her restaurants after a different Mediterranean city. Suddenly, Caroline had a startling feeling that Alice was somehow inspiring this
Back home, Caroline began reading Alice Foote MacDougall’s Autobiography of a Businesswoman and was overcome by the similarities between their lives and the struggles they both endured as businesswomen in a world that favors men and as single mothers facing the challenge of raising children while running companies. Caroline decided to honor her grandmother’s genius by placing her philosophical quotations on Teeccino’s marketing materials. You will find quotations from Alice’s book sprinkled throughout the Teeccino website. When time allows, Caroline plans to republish Alice’s unique book woven into a memoir of her own entrepreneurial endeavors under the title “Coffee & Tea, Great Granny & Me.”
Left alone to raise 3 children with only $38 in her bank account after the death of her husband, Alice decided that her talent for roasting green coffee beans would be useful to her friends, who served inferior coffees at their afternoon tea and coffee parties. In the early 1900’s, you could only buy green coffee beans at the grocer and then you had to roast them yourself at home. Alice sent out letters to 200 of her friends, offering to deliver freshly roasted coffee beans to their homes, and thus began her business, Alice Foote MacDougall Coffee & Teas.
Bucking the male-dominated coffee business, Alice not only delivered coffee direct to consumers, but she also began selling to hospitals and colleges where she competed with men for accounts. Only 4ft 8’ tall, she was fearless and traveled by train and public transport to call on her accounts.
To expand her business, Alice decided that she should try selling roasted coffee beans directly to the public. She leased a small kiosk in Grand Central Station, hoping to attract buyers from the busy travelers. Unfortunately, no one stopped to buy her roasted beans. One day, it was raining hard and she felt sorry for the bedraggled travelers. She sent for her waffle iron and began roasting fresh coffee on site while making waffles on her iron. Soon she had a line out the door of hungry customers who smelled the delicious aromas of waffles and coffee wafting from the kiosk.
What began as a small kiosk, grew to encompass four top restaurants in New York City where dinner and dancing made them attractive to famous customers who cast their allure on the patrons. As a 101‑year‑old former hostess at Alice’s restaurants relayed, everyone who was anyone came to dine and dance including young women who were allowed to go there unchaperoned. For years, this former hostess had kept a menu on which she had collected signatures from all the famous people who visited the restaurants. Wouldn’t you know, she threw it out shortly before her granddaughter connected her to Teeccino!
Alice traveled by ocean liner in the mid 1920’s to purchase Italian pottery called Majolica pottery from Deruta, Italy for her restaurants. She was the first person to import this beautiful hand-painted pottery that dates back to the Renaissance in the 1500’s. A Majolica pottery museum in Deruta features photos of Alice buying the pottery and her letters ordering the pottery written in Italian. To transport the pottery to New York, it was packed in straw-filled barrels that could be rolled up ramps and onto the train cars and subsequently onto the ships that carried the pottery to America. She is literally credited with introducing Deruta’s Majolica pottery to the world. Subsequently a number of the potteries became very famous.
With the onset of the depression, people no longer had the money to go out to dinner or patronize fine coffees. Diners with 5 cent cups of coffee became the way New Yorkers drank coffee. Alice eventually had to close her restaurants and then her business itself. She retired to live the rest of her life with her son, Caroline’s grandfather.
Alice Foote MacDougall’s life was the inspiration for the best-selling book, Imitation of Life, by popular novelist Fanny Hurst. A film of the same name based on the book starring Claudette Colbert was made in the 1930s.
The beauty of the internet is that a number of people who were connected to Alice Foote MacDougall – including distant relatives, the 101‑year‑old former hostess, researchers on women in business and people who own collections of Alice’s pottery – have all been able to connect with Caroline through internet searches. Alice continues to intrigue us as we look back and try to understand the mindset of a woman in business in the 1920’s.
“It is not easy to create calm in the turmoil of an electrically driven city – and we run so fast toward our commercial goal that we do not even glimpse the beauty by the way.”