Seattle’s Best Coffee began as a combination ice cream and coffee shop called the Wet Whisker on Whidbey Island, northwest of Seattle, Washington. Founder Jim Stewart purchased green coffee beans from local roasters to be roasted and sold at the Wet Whisker. By the end of the second summer, the shop had roasted and sold nearly 500 pounds (226 kg) of coffee.
By the end of 1970, the Vashon Island Wet Whisker was sold, and Jim Stewart, along with his brother Dave, opened another ice cream and coffee store on Pier 70 on Seattle’s Waterfront. The shop was called Stewart Brothers Wet Whisker. In 1982, Stewart Brothers Wet Whisker began serving espresso based beverages alongside other coffee products.
In 1983, the name again changed from Stewart Brothers Wet Whisker to Stewart Brothers Coffee. Shortly after, business began to expand, and new shops opened in Bellevue, Washington, and in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market a year later. In 1991, the company was renamed “Seattle’s Best Coffee” after winning a local competition. One of the highest volume coffee shops in the 1990s was the Seattle’s Best Coffee on 4th and Pine at the Westlake Center in Seattle. A manager was hired, Kim Whittle and within 3 years she took that location from $700,000 to $1.3 million. The sales were not espresso machines or even bulk beans, 85% of the sales were in cups (drip, lattes, mochas, Italian sodas and Americanos). This location was rumored to be one of the highest volume coffee shops in the world. Around 1995, Seattle’s Best Coffee was purchased by a group of investors who own Torrefazione Italia. They formed a new company made up of both parties called Seattle Coffee Holdings. In 1997, Seattle Coffee Holdings changed its name to Seattle Coffee Company.
In 1998, AFC Enterprises purchased Seattle Coffee Holdings and began franchising the Seattle’s Best Coffee brand. During AFC Enterprise’s ownership, Seattle Coffee Company’s Vashon Island roasterie was upgraded and the company’s organic coffee line was established. AFC Enterprises sold SCC to Starbucks in July 2003, retaining franchise rights in eleven countries, Hawaii and U.S. military bases.
Starbucks closed the Vashon Island facility October 23, 2003 and moved production to their Kent, Washington roasterie. The historic Vashon Island roasterie building, Jim Stewart’s original 1952 roaster and roastmaster Peter Larsen while no longer affiliated with SBC or Starbucks continues operations as The Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie.