The TM Ward Coffee Company: A 28-year Chatham Tradition

By Mary Tunny Weichert

--- May 18, 2020

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If you’re one of many people whose morning routine includes a delicious hot cup of coffee from a local café, you might find it difficult to imagine a time when coffee shops weren’t the norm. Until the mid 1960s, however, coffee cafés and coffee bars were almost unheard of in the United States; and until the mid 1980s, they were still quite rare, especially in the suburbs.

Thanks to the vision of TM Ward owner, Axlyn Sommer, Chatham coffee lovers have enjoyed delicious, lovingly prepared coffees, teas, and other special treats at 7 South Passaic Avenue since 1992.


The TM Ward Coffee Company
One cup at a time since 1869!

A CHATHAM FAMILY BUSINESS WITH A 150-YEAR HISTORY
The Sommer family coffee business began in 1920, when Axlyn’s father in law, William Sommer, worked as a coffee wholesaler for a New York-based coffee importer and roaster. During his early years in the coffee business, William learned gold standards for roasting, tasting, grinding, and packaging coffee. As his interest in and talent for the coffee industry grew, William expanded his business to include the purchase of the TM Ward Coffee Company located on Broad Street in Newark near the Federal Building.

Since then, the Sommer family has continued running its large coffee retail business, including grinding and packaging coffee, in a warehouse on Broad Street. Today, 75 percent of the TM Ward business includes wholesale coffee for restaurants, country clubs, hospitals, bagel and sandwich shops, and grocery stores throughout the east coast. 

CHATHAM — AN IDEAL PLACE TO CALL HOME AND RUN A BUSINESS
A native of Manasquan, New Jersey, Axlyn, and her husband, Bob, moved to Chatham in 1970. “When it came time to find a family home,” says Axlyn, “we chose Chatham because it felt like home-town America to us. In addition to the beauty of the neighborhoods and surrounding area,” she adds, “the schools were excellent.”

Axlyn and Bob have 4 children — three sons, Jeffrey, Scott, and Robert Jr., each of whom is in the family business — and a daughter, Traci, a sports consultant who qualified for the 1992 Olympic gymnastics trials. Eldest son, Jeffrey, is responsible for roasting beans TM Ward imports from all around the world. After they are roasted in Norwalk, Connecticut, the beans arrive at the Newark plant, where they are ground and packaged. Middle son, Scott, runs the wholesale division for TM Ward; and Robert Jr., who lives in Sweden with his wife and two children, handles all Internet sales and advertising for the company.

“I love knowing a little part of the Sommer family
helps make other people happy.”


— TM Ward owner Axlyn Sommer

A BRILLIANT BUSINESS IDEA AND ITS EVOLUTION
Twenty-eight years ago, after her children went off to college, Axlyn saw an opportunity for TM Ward in Chatham. “I had been making gift baskets for fun at home, which were a hit with family and friends,” says Axlyn. “I soon realized there was a niche for my work in the area. With nothing like TM Ward in the Borough, I found the shop on Passaic up for rent and I decided to go for it!”

“My original idea was to create gift baskets with coffees, teas, nuts, and other items,” says Axlyn. “But demand was such that the company evolved to include coffee machines, tableware, and tea towels, among other fine products.” In addition to our popular coffee-of-the-month club,” she adds, “we offer Chatham-specific mugs, towels, and plates. Our nonbreakable melamine tableware and serving pieces have been incredibly popular because they’re ideal for backyard / poolside entertaining. During college exam time,” says Axlyn, “many parents come to us to send their kids a special morale- and energy-boosting basket of coffees, teas, and other treats.”

 

In addition to local deliveries,
TM Ward ships corporate, birthday, and holiday gift baskets
as well as other products across the United States.

MAKING PROGRESS DESPITE COVID-19 SETBACKS
Over the two-month COVID-19 lockdown, with only a one-week closure of the Chatham shop, TM Ward continued all its business with health safety practices in place. Axlyn says, “Although the first week was a bit slower than usual, restaurants quickly transitioned to take-out orders and the coffee business kept moving. Because we offer grocery items in the Chatham shop,” she adds, “TM Ward was considered an essential business. We used the week we were closed to get organized for keeping everyone safe.”

“Life is valuable,” says Axlyn.
“Wearing a mask and taking precautions to prevent the spread of any disease
isn’t about its inconveniences. It’s about what’s good for others
as well as what's good for you.”

THE NEW NORMAL AT TM WARD WORKS WELL
“Now,” says Axlyn, “we ask clients to place their orders by phone so that we can prepare them for pickup. We allow only 2 people in the shop at one time. Clients must, of course, wear a mask, and my staff members also wear masks and gloves. As far as getting your cup of joe,” she adds, “we will take your order, make your coffee just as you like it, and give it to you. That way, only staff members touch the equipment.” Axelyn says everyone has been very respectful about wearing masks and honoring safe-distancing practices.

“Everyone in Chatham has done a wonderful job following safety rules
and working with the new normal,” says Axlyn.

CHATHAM SUSTAINS ITS FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE
Axlyn says it’s been emotionally moving to see how people have rallied to keep life positive as well as safe. Parents, for example, have organized drive-by celebrations for graduations and birthdays. “Just recently,” says Axlyn, “a neighbor’s son played Pomp and Circumstance on his trumpet from a distance while another neighbor walked up her driveway in celebration of her high school graduation.”

GIVING BACK TO CHATHAM, OTHER COMMUNITIES, AND HEALTHCARE ORGANIZATIONS
Axlyn believes it is important that she and her business give back to the community. For this reason, she is on the board at the senior center, where she has long donated coffee and, before COVID-19, volunteered her time. More recently, Axlyn has sent coffee boxes to local hospitals, including Morristown Medical Center, Overlook Medical Center, and Saint Barnabas Medical Center.

WHERE YOU CAN SEE OUR TROUBLES ARE ALL THE SAME*
In addition, Axlyn suggests TM Ward is a source of solace, compassion, and encouragement to its patrons. “After 9/11,” she says, “I put a come-in-for-a-hug sign on the shop door. TM Ward is like Cheers,” says Axlyn. “We call you by name, listen to your stories, and sympathize with challenges we all share in navigating life.”

In a time when you can order just about anything from the Internet,
Axlyn recommends shopping locally
to stay connected with and contribute to your community.

“Chatham is a great community for cultivating friendships and business,” says Axlyn. “As a family, we thank our clients for their kind and continued support. We are here to do what you need. We love your ideas, your suggestions. We love serving you. We are committed to staying in the community. We are Chatham.”

“It’s important for me to be with young people, get their ideas,
and hear their comments, whether negative or positive.
It’s the only way we grow,” says Axlyn.

A POSITIVE FUTURE FOR BUSINESS IN CHATHAM
Last October, TM Ward celebrated 150 years in business. “That’s a milestone for any business,” says Axlyn, “but it’s especially remarkable for a family business. When we discuss the future, it’s always with the thought of keeping TM Ward alive in Chatham for the long term. I’ll work here until my kids get a hook and drag me out,” she laughs.

Although Bob died three years ago, the Sommers’s sons are carrying on the family business. “Bob’s absence is an enormous void for us,” says Axlyn, “but I feel blessed every day. Bob and I built TM Ward in Chatham together. Continuing the business is a tribute to him.”

“I believe good times come out of bad times,” says Axlyn.
The COVID crisis has forced us to step back and reassess our values.
It has reminded us to give as much as we can
because it matters.”

CHATHAM IS A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE AND WORK
The TM Ward Company is among successful businesses that distinguish Chatham as an extraordinary place to live, work, and own a business. In addition to its outstanding schools and storybook neighborhoods, Chatham offers residents and visitors sophisticated amenities like TM Ward that come with urban living, but without the hustle-bustle and expense of the city.

When considering where to get your next cup of coffee, visit TM Ward at 7 Passaic Avenue in Chatham. In addition to an exceptional cup of coffee, you’ll enjoy the friendly ambience of a country general store, the hearty aroma of coffee, and refined, personalized service that distinguishes TM Ward from today’s big-chain coffee sellers.

You may call TM Ward today at 973-635-8929
or visit the company online at info@wardcoffeeofchatham.com.

For more information about buying or selling 
a Chatham home or business,
 
Call me today at 201-532-0788.