Community Coffee’s first mill put on display

Community Coffee’s first industrial coffee grinder, the Jabez Burns No. 12 Mill, has come home.

The grinder, which Community purchased 88 years ago, is now back at the company’s home office some 44 years after it was sold to another local business.

And it was Norman Saurage III, Community’s former board chairman and grandson of the company’s founder, Norman “Cap” Saurage, who made it happen. Saurage not only bought the grinder, but also restored it.

The Community home office is a small museum of pictures and memorabilia from the company’s 90 years in business in Baton Rouge, so when Saurage heard that a member of the Fresina family had the old mill in his garage, he knew it would make a wonderful addition to the company’s collection.

“I thought it would be educational, historical and fun,” Saurage said.

The old grinder was used by the company until it was sold in the summer of 1970 to members of the Fresina family, who used it in their pasta business. After they quit using the grinder, they moved it to a family member’s garage.

“Frank Fresina told our facility Superintendent Sal Michelle that he had the grinder, so I went by to see it,” Saurage said. “It was on its third coat of paint.”

On Dec. 13, Saurage bought the grinder. He and his son, Hank, picked up the 400-pound machine the following day.

“We loaded it into my dad’s old 1987 Ford Squire station wagon,” said Saurage.

He spent 11 days cleaning and sanding it, and knocking out some of the dents. Then he painted it antique red.

“Red was not the original color, but I thought for educational purposes it would be more attractive and similar to our team color,” he said. Community is known for its distinctive red bags.

Community began in 1919 when Cap Saurage started blending coffee from his own secret recipe at his two Full Weight grocery stores in downtown Baton Rouge.

Friends and customers stopped in for free cups of brewed coffee and purchased the ground coffee in brown paper bags on which Cap Saurage stenciled “Community Brand,” a name he selected in honor of his friends and customers.

“It was a coffee for his community,” his grandson wrote in his book, “The Community Coffee Story 1919-2009.”

Cap Saurage ground and packaged Community in the back room of the Full Weight store, but he couldn’t keep up with the demand. Finally in 1923, he converted the horse barn in the backyard of his home at 333 Leon Street (now North 16th Street) into a coffee grinding mill.

In 1924, Cap Saurage left the grocery business and went all in on coffee production, beginning with small tabletop grinders. In 1926, he purchased the Jabez Burns No. 12 Mill. The late Julius “June” James, a longtime Community employee, told Norman Saurage that the grinder arrived by wagon but was too tall to through the barn door opening.

“He dug out ruts in the ground for the wagon wheels,” Saurage said.

Saurage said he often thought about the old grinder. “It was a part of our history, our first effort to become a coffee company.”

He especially enjoyed restoring the old mill. “I like mechanical stuff. I find it very interesting,” he said.

The grinder now has a prominent place in the lobby of the home office.

“I think it is important to preserve these things,” he said. “There are many things that started in Baton Rouge that you can’t find traces of.”