Some incredible brands in the United States are more recognizable than the products they serve — like Band-Aids instead of bandages, Coca-Cola instead of soda pop, and Google instead of a search query.
But in a gargantuan city like New York City, one coffee cup brand served a generation of New York locals, immigrants, and tourists. That New York cup is the iconic Anthora.
The NY Coffee Cup Company’s blue, white, and gold Greek-styled Anthora coffee cups set the standard for portable coffee cups before Starbucks dominated the market. The cup did its job, holding to-go coffee for more than at least 500 million coffee or hot drink consumers by 1994. The city honors the cup for its service through features in Hollywood movies, political galas, and the hearts of millions.
But how did the cup come to coffee, and how did a Czechoslovakian immigrant-turned-marketer land in the U.S. and create an emblematic Anthora design? And what’s the state of the company now? Keep reading to find out.
The Birth of the Anthora
While the Anthora was not created by a person who was Greek, it was created for New York’s Greek community.
Why would they market to a small slice of New York’s population? Because the Greek population in New York now has roots that run deep.
There have been two large migrations from Greece to the U.S. during the 1900s. In the first wave of immigrants alone, 421,000 Greek people were estimated to have made their way across the Atlantic looking for jobs settling along the East Coast.
After the second wave, it became clear that many Greeks found a home in New York and had no plans of leaving. Due to the massive amount of immigration, New York is considered the largest Greek settlement outside of Greece or Cyprus.
These Greek immigrants brought with them their coffee culture, cafes, and pushcarts which have also become the norm in New York City.
So in 1963, the Sherri Cup Company set out to produce a to-go coffee cup that would appeal to Greek consumers and vendors alike. And thanks to a Czechoslovakian Holocaust survivor, they would succeed.
Unveiling the Iconic Design
Leslie Buck, an employee of Sherri Cup Company’s marketing department, was tasked with selling the cups to Greek vendors.
When he first was unable to sell cups, he designed to redesign the cup itself to remind the Greek people of their home, heritage, and identity. Without formal design training, he researched Greek culture and used ideas and concepts that inspired him — colors from the Greek flag, iconic Amphora urns, and the Greek key pattern as filigree. And on the side of the cup in gold letters it welcomes the drinker with "We Are Happy To Serve You."
The “Anthora,” or his thick Eastern European accented pronunciation of the word Amphora, was born and an immediate hit. It’s hard to imagine in today’s market, but at the time the Anthora coffee cup also showed innovation by creating a to-go cup that wouldn’t burn your hands nor slow you down on your way to work.
With this visual and effective design, the Sherri Cup Company sold 500 million cups by 1994.
- Nostalgic design
- Durable ceramic material
- Perfect 10-ounce capacity
The Anthora's Peak and Decline
Some called the Anthora cup as recognizable as the Statue of Liberty.
Whether it’s true or not, the Anthora grew beyond its Greek roots and was found at any bagel stand, diner, or deli.
Its popularity continued to grow as Hollywood filmmakers captured the blue-and-white coffee cup on the silver screen in New York City movies like Goodfellas, Men in Black, and Law & Order. Then-New York Senator Hillary Clinton ordered 10,000 Anthora cups for a welcoming gala dinner when she was being tapped as Secretary of State.
However, every rise has a fall. When Starbucks exploded on the scene, it destabilized the city’s coffee carts, diners, and the coffee cup market with their coffee cup.
With it, the Anthora sharply fell downhill. Solo Company, the owners of the famous plastic red Solo cup, absorbed Sherri and the rights to the Anthora cup in 2005. In 2006, Solo Cup Company ceased large-scale distribution and licensing agreements for limited availability.
And the Anthora cup was eventually phased out. In 2007, a New York Times review mentioned the cup as “one of those endangered artifacts.”
It seemed like the time had come and gone for the Anthora.
A Revival and Collectability
But everyone loves an underdog story.
In 2015, Dart Container Company decided to revive the Anthora Cup due to popular demand.
They returned to the market and found that competition had attempted to fill the void on the Anthora. Some changed the urn to harpists, discus-throwers, and other Greek sculptures, whereas others had similar-but-not-quite-right Herculean fonts.
The New York Times interviewed a man collecting different versions of the cup, claiming he viewed them as an “art form that is tattooed to the body of New York.”
But regardless, the true design is back. NYCoffeeCup.com claims to sell the authentic New York Coffee Cup.
A Future for the Cup of our Past
The Anthora cup lives on in cinema and the memories of New Yorkers who enjoyed its coffee.
The cup was intended to attract the city’s growing Greek population but ended up creating a cup that would resonate with all of New York City. The city where people come from around the world to work, network, and create, a message like “We Are Happy To Serve You” speaks of the spirit of American business.
From its rise and fall to its resurrection, this cup has a lot of history and an incredible story that shows the strength and value of immigrants.