In 1753, Egbert Douwes (1723-1802) and his wife Akke Thijsses opened a small store in Joure selling colonial goods, including coffee, tea, and tobacco. The purchase deed for the shop was signed on March 11, 1753.

In 1780, their son, Douwe Egberts (1755-1806) started to work in the store with his parents. While his parents continued working in their shop “De Witte Os,” Douwe Egberts travelled to his clients in Joure, and farther than that. Douwe Egbert also succeeded in establishing a reputation for his company and its products far beyond Joure.

About the same time, Douwe Egberts and his wife Ymke Jacobs took over the company from Douwe’s father and the company bears his name to this day.

After Douwe’s death in 1806, his second wife, Lysbeth Mintjes, announced in an ad in the Leeuwarder Courant that “Business continues.” This ad was the very first ever taken out by the company.

“De Witte Os”

The original “De Witte Os” shop was bought in 1871 by Johannes Hessel de Jong (1833-1883) for use as a commercial property. The store’s name (“The White Ox”) goes back to Egbert Douwes’ (1723-1802) and Akke Thijsses’ previous butcher shot. No further details are known.

An ox on the sign of a butcher shop was very common at that time. Aside from the name of the store, the “De Witte Os” also served as a brand name for tobacco for a long time, registered back in 1881. On March 4, 1910, “De Witte Os” also became the brand name for coffee, tea, and grocery goods.

Business in the store went well. The family home purchased earlier (1831) by Hessel Douwes de Jong (1802-1855) was next door to the shop. The home was destroyed in a fire in 1881, but the store was spared.

The store primarily served as a wholesaler to other shopkeepers and retailers. Until the First World War, a large variety of goods were also sold across the counter. Coffee, tobacco, and tea were the most important products, but the shop also sold candy, sugar, rice, noodles, bluing (brightener for textiles), chicory, cinnamon, saffron, syrup, vinegar, chocolate, Golden pipes, and exotic fruit.

On weekdays, the shop was open from 7 AM to 9 PM and even until 10:30 PM on Saturdays. The store also opened for a few hours on Sunday. After 1920, the store limited its product lines to tobacco, coffee, and tea.

The shop went out of business during the Second World War and the last shopkeeper , Mr. Aano Schepen, moved to the office in Joure in 1944. The building was then temporarily used for other purposes, including lodgings for employee families. “De Witte Os” thus entered into a long dormant period.

After a thorough restoration by Goingarijp-based contractor Ids Riemersma, De Witte Os reopened on Thursday, May 1, 1980, but not as a shop in the usual sense but as part of the Johannes Hessel-Huis museum complex (now known as the Joure Museum). Since then, the shop still sells “De Witte Os coffee and tea in old-fashioned packaging as well as candies from olden times.

The Big Fire of Joure

On the night of October 14, 1881, there was a massive fire in Joure. The fire started in a cabinet maker’s shop and eventually destroyed a total of fourteen homes, stores, and commercial buildings. These included the de Jong family home, the brand-new tobacco factory, the coffee warehouse, the coffee roasting plant, and the de Jong’s massive inventory of tobacco, coffee, and candy. No records exist about what happened to the tea inventory. Johannes Hessel (1833-1883) had already taken over the company in 1858. After the fire, he decided to rebuild as quickly as possible.

Expansion to Utrecht

For the first 145 years of the company until 1898, the company conducted all of its business on Midstraat in Joure. The company began to grow and Johannes de Jong (1869-1955) decided in 1898 to expand by building a new plant in the yard of the family home.

This new facility was used to process coffee and tobacco. The favorable growth of the company and the limited size of the warehouse drove Cornelis Johannes to think about further expansion. In 1912, he purchased buildings, land, and four homes situated on the Slachtedijk, on the water of Zijlroede in Snikzwaag. This complex had previously served as an oil mill and a butter and milk processing facility. The coffee roasting plant, the tobacco processing plant, and the company offices moved to this building in 1913.

In January 1919, Cornelis Johannes bought “a house with outbuildings, attachments, yard and land in Utrecht at no. 10 Catharijnekade.” The property was used as to roast, package, and ship coffee, primarily throughout central and southern Netherlands.

The archives do not provide the reasons for the move to Utrecht, but the move to the central Netherlands certainly helped with logistics.

The company continued to grow in the 1920s, making further expansion necessary. In 1931, they began to expand the complex in Joure, purchasing the de Boer oil mill on Slachtedijk. The Catharijnekade site in Utrecht, however, could not be expanded. This problem was solved with the 1929 purchase of a factory building on the Merwedekanaal. The Utrecht facilities then moved in their entirety from Catharijnekade to Merwedekade (now called Keulsekade).

The building on Catharijnekade was used as storage space for years until it was sold on October 30, 1976. In 1955, the Keulsekade site was expanded with the purchase of the adjoining land and buildings which had once been the N.V. Utrechtse Walswerken. The Keulsekade expansion was originally intended to provide logistical support for the company’s operations in the central Netherlands, but it ultimately became the headquarters of Douwe Egberts .

Family History

On January 10, 1755, Douwe Egberts, the son of Egbert Douwes and Akke Thijsses was born. Douwe married Ymkje Jacobs Visser in 1775. After her death, he married Lysbeth Mintjes in 1791. Douwe Egberts died on February 19, 1806 and his wife continued with the company.

In 1811, The Netherlands became a kingdom under the reign of Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. On August 18, 1811, an imperial decree required each Dutch family without a surname to choose a surname and register it within the year Douwe Egberts’ descendants opted to take on de Jong as their family name.

Cornelis Johannes de Jong

From 1887 to 1955, the Douwe Egberts company was led by Cornelis Johannes de Jong, who had a striking influence on the fortunes of both company and family. Due to his hard work and good business sense, Cornelis Johannes is sometimes called the second founder of the company, having laid the foundation for the modern Douwe Egberts corporation.

He assumed control of the company at just 20 years of age and was responsible for the company’s first expansion. He also opened the Utrecht logistics support site in 1919 which would eventually become the company’s headquarters.

Cornelis Johannes was one-of-a-kind. He wore a bowler hat each day: if it was perched at the back of his head, then it would be a good day for everyone. But, if it was pulled forward, it was best if everyone avoided Mister CJ, as he was called by the veteran employees.

The Douwe Egberts Name

The store and, later, the company, became famous as Douwe Egberts, not Egbert Douwes, the name of the store’s founder. This reflects the fact that it was the son, Douwe Egberts, who built the company’s reputation throughout the far north of The Netherlands, whereas his father had always focused on running the shop in Joure.

Company of the Widow Douwe Egberts

After Douwe Egberts died in 1806, his widow, Lysbeth Mintjes (1767-1833), ensured that the company would continue under the name “Company of the Widow Douwe Egberts.” In 1810, the company added a tobacco processing plant. After Lysbeth Mintjes died in 1833, the company was continued by Douwe’s and Lysbeth’s sons Mintje (1798-1844), Thijs (1800-1845), and Hessel (1802-1855), along with Ruurd (1782-1871), a son from Douwe Egberts’ first marriage.

The four created a company that lasted between 1833 and 1845. Ruurd was charged with administration, Hessel handled the purchasing and roasting of coffee, Mintje was responsible for the purchase and processing of tobacco, and Thijs acted as head of outside sales. The company also sold tea, although it is likely that profits from tea sales had begun to decline during this year as tobacco became the company’s most important product line.

After Mintje and Thijs died in short succession, the company’s days were numbered as Ruurd and Hessel disagreed about its future. The company was split, with Hessel Douwes de Jong continuing the trade in tobacco, coffee, and tea, alongside his trade in farm products and spirits. The continued existence of Douwe Egberts was seriously at risk, but Hessel Douwes eventually continued the company under the name Weduwe Douwe Egbertszoon (1845-1919).


From 1919, Douwe Egberts began to expand its focus to the entire Dutch market with its coffee, tea, and tobacco products, eventually becoming a leading brand by the outbreak of the the Second World War. Sales representatives travelled the length and breadth of the kingdom supplying Douwe Egbert products.

The company grew quickly after 1945, expanding far beyond Utrecht and Joure. Shops were opened throughout the Netherlands and even in Belgium, France, Spain, and Denmark. In addition to its import/export activities and international branches, Douwe Egberts was also busy acquiring other companies. By the late 1960s, Douwe Egberts began searching for further growth opportunities that would internationalize the company.

End of the family company

As the company grew, an increasing number of managers were not members of the De Jong family. It had also become almost impossible for the leadership of such a large company to rest in the hands of just a few persons.

As that generation began to move on, it had become clear that Douwe Egberts was nearing its end as a family company. In January 1978, the company was purchased by American Consolidated Foods Corporation, later known as Sara Lee.

Sara Lee/DE

Nathan Cummings laid the foundation for the Sara Lee Corporation by acquiring the C.D. Kenny Company in 1939, a company that traded in coffee, tea, and sugar.

In the years that followed, many acquisitions were made and the company became known as the Consolidated Foods Corporation. The company kitchens of Sara Lee, founded in 1949 by Charles W. Lubin, had become famous in the United States for its frozen pies and had been purchased by CFC in 1956. The company’ first step outside of the United States was the acquisition of the Dutch company Jonker Fris in 1962.

The Christmas edition of the company newsletter in 1976 hinted at a “possible collaboration between Douwe Egberts and Consolidated Foods”, which actually took place two years later when when CFC acquired 65% of Douwe Egberts’ stock with 26% of the voting rights. In 1984, its share of the stock increased to 93% with 41% voting rights.

As the company continued to grow internationally, it was rechristened the Sara Lee Corporation in 1985. The name Sara Lee originated from the daughter of Charles W. Lubin.

In 1988, the Sara Lee Corporation acquired a 100% economic interest in Douwe Egberts, with 41% in the form of voting shares and 59% in the form of share certificates distributed by the Douwe Egberts Sara Lee Trust. . In 1989, Sara Lee/DE was created. This lasted until 1996, when the trust was dissolved and Douwe Egberts became a full subsidiary of Sara Lee.

In the first decade of the new millennium, Sara Lee underwent turbulent times. The company had grown considerably thanks to extensive acquisition activity and had expanded into many different products and markets. A decision was taken later in that decade to to spin off multiple divisions, including Duyvis, Lassie, and Household & Body Care, known from the brands Sanex, Dobbelman, and Zwitsal.

A new Douwe Egberts

In 2011, it was decided to split up Sara Lee into a unit that focused on meat products in the United States and a unit that specialized in coffee and tea, rechristened Douwe Egberts (after a brief period as CoffeeCo). The company went public in March 2012 as a completely Dutch company (under the name D.E. Master Blenders 1753).

In September 2013, a group of German investors under the leadership of Joh A. Benckiser (JAB) acquired all of the shares in D.E. Master Blenders 1753 and the company went private. In May 2014, it was announced that D.E. Master Blenders 1753 and Mondelez International would be consolidated their coffee business under the name Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE).

On May 5, 2015, the European Commission gave its conditional approval to the Douwe Egberts-Jacobs merger, which was finalized on July 6, 2015. The result was the largest coffee-only company in the world.

As of 2020, JDE has merged with Peet's Coffee to become JDE Peet's, followed by an initial public offering.