NAPLES — They knew him as a notorious over-tipper.
They knew him as a boy who grew up in poverty in Cleveland and went on to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in America.
Johnny Carson knew him. So did Joe DiMaggio. They knew him as a man who changed people’s lives.
Samuel Glazer, a Naples resident for 25 years and co-founder of the Mr. Coffee drip coffeemaker, has died at age 89.
“He was great, not for what he accomplished, but for who he was,” said Glazer’s wife, Jeanne. “He was generous, honest and extremely bright.”
“He grew up poor,” Jeanne Glazer said. “No, not poor, destitute.”
When Samuel Glazer was seven years old, his father died. So he started working as a newspaper delivery boy to help support his mother.
“He had the largest route in Cleveland,” Jeanne Glazer said. “He delivered papers until he was 18. Then, they offered him the district manager position.”
Glazer always had a knack for business. He and his childhood friend, Vincent Marotta Sr., went on to pursue and succeed at several business ventures.
“They were best friends and 50/50 business partners in everything for 60 years,” Jeanne Glazer said. “They started by going on the road to sell dog food. Soon, they were building garages, shopping centers and housing developments.”
In 1972, Glazer and Marotta launched their most successful business venture — the Mr. Coffee coffeemaker. It was the first automatic drip coffeemaker for use at home.
Mr. Coffee became the top selling brand in the country with sales of $120 million in 1986.
The company was helped along by Joe DiMaggio, the legendary ballplayer who became the spokesman for Mr. Coffee after Marotta convinced the slugger during a round of golf, recalled Jeanne Glazer.
“They revolutionized the coffee industry. The key was the television commercials. Having Joe DiMaggio as the pitchman was incredible. They were instructional commercials. Joe showed everyone how to make a cup of coffee. What no one ever knew is that it took Joe 30 takes to make one commercial,” Jeanne Glazer said.
Glazer and Marotta sold the company in 1987 for $182 million. But even with all his success, Samuel Glazer never forgot where he came from.
“We were at the funeral service in Cleveland, and a man I didn’t know walked up to me. He was one of the caterers at the service, and his name was Sam, too,” Jeanne Glazer said.
“My Sam used to go into a barbershop for a shoeshine. Forty years ago, it was only 50 cents and he would give the 11-year-old boy a five-dollar tip every time. He would say ‘Kid, you remind me of myself when I was your age.’ The caterer was that boy.”
The boy who shined Sam Glazer’s shoes is now in his fifties and is the manager of the catering company. He told Jeanne Glazer that the small gesture by her husband had a profound affect on his life.
He wasn’t the only one.
When Glazer lived in Naples at Pelican Bay, he would walk to the Ritz-Carlton for breakfast everyday. Thomas Joice, who now works at Pelican Marsh, was Glazer’s server for years.
“The first time Sam came in he ordered a cup of coffee and said ‘Fill it to the top, I know a little bit about coffee,’” Joice said. “I remember saying to myself, ‘what the hell does this guy know about coffee?’ Turns out he was Mr. Coffee.”
When Glazer tipped Joice $20 on a $20 tab, the accounting office at the hotel thought something was suspicious. Joice was asked if he wrote in the tip himself.
“That was Sam,” said Joice. “If anyone was for the underdog, the average man, it was him. I’ve never met anyone like him. I don’t think I ever will again.”
“He always over-tipped,” Jeanne Glazer said. “I could tell you about a lot of waiters in Naples that could say the same thing. I think he remembered himself being dependent on tips. He didn’t do it for recognition. He identified with that person.”
Glazer also liked giving friends coffeemakers. On several occasions, recalled Jeanne Glazer, her husband sent late-night host Johnny Carson coffee makers. Carson, who was staying in a hotel room finally had his fill, “Please, Sam, no more coffee machines.”
Glazer’s son, Robert and his wife are the only immediate survivors. Ms. Glazer said she’s been thinking a lot about when she first met her husband.
“Sam was in a convertible, immaculately dressed and suntanned,” she said. “It had California plates and we were in Ohio. I thought to myself ‘well, there’s a director from Hollywood scoping out a location for a movie.’ I didn’t think I would ever see him again.
“But nine months later we met, and I invited him for coffee.”