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After the California Gold Rush, San Francisco became a center of coffee importing and roasting in the western United States, spawning such future industry giants as Folgers Coffee and Hills Brothers Coffee.
In 1881 Max J. Brandenstein began producing coffee in the Bay. In 1899 he established a spice and coffee import business in his name that took over his brand with the assistance of brothers Mannie, Charlie and Eddie. The firm's name was later changed to the MJB Co. to minimise sibling rivalry and disguise their German-Jewish origins.
(Addendum by a family member: Some say that the name MJB was to hide the family's German Jewish origins. But as a member of the Brandenstein family (now "Bransten") I disagree. Our family was always proud of being Jewish and I sincerely doubt there would ever have been an effort to hide that. On the other hand, the German origin of the name caused a change from Brandenstein to Bransten during World War I. However, this would have no bearing on the original naming of MJB.) In her memoir "Coffee, Martinis and San Francisco," published by Presidio Press in 1978, Ruth Bransten McDougall, the granddaughter of the founder, wrote on page 94 that her father Mannie Brandenstein changed his name to Bransten to protect the business against anti-German antipathies during World War I, as well as to please his wife, whose family originated from France.
In 1910 Mannie Brandenstein debuted what was to become a well-known advertising campaign: "MJB Coffee Why?", beginning with a promotional fans giveaway at the Johnson-Jeffries boxing match in Reno, Nevada. In time, signs bearing the slogan appeared all over San Francisco.