By Errol Castens
Mississippians of a certain age may remember well the “Fill-Up with Billups” signs that welcomed motorists to gas stations around the South and East Coast from the 1940s to the 1960s and beyond.
Decades after bigger competitors bought out Billups Oil Co., its famous slogan and logo are inviting a different kind of fill-up.
“My grandfather and his two brothers started with two pumps in downtown Carrollton,” said Guy Billups III of Oxford. “I always wanted to do something with that slogan; I thought it was good marketing.”
Billups, a developer and former banker, and his wife, Hattie, decided to resurrect and register the trademarks for something they already loved – coffee. With the addition of a mug in the classic outstretched Billups hand, it seemed a perfect fit.
“We wanted to pay homage to our family history in the petroleum industry by keeping the ‘Fill-Up with Billups’ slogan and incorporating a retro theme into the Billups Coffee brand,” Guy said. “We spent about three to four months tasting coffees before we came up with what we really wanted.”
Although the gourmet roasts are far from the stereotypical beverages that once defined “gas station coffee,” they play off the theme with “Premium,” “Regular” and “Unleaded” varieties, all roasted in Mississippi.
“The regular is a Guatemalan rainforest coffee from … different farms,” Guy said. “The premium … is a single-source Brazilian bean with a little darker roast and a richer flavor.”
“Unleaded,” of course, is a special decaf blend.
In the early stages of the business, most sales are online (www.billupscoffee.com) with the coffees shipped for now from the couple’s dining room.
Hattie gestured toward herself and her husband.
“You know those mom-and-pop businesses you hear about?” she mused. “THIS is mom-and-pop.”
The first retail outlets, including Ice Core Fitness in downtown Oxford, are stocked now, and Billups Coffee will also soon be available on amazon.com.
Ironically, with the evolution of motorist-oriented businesses from yesteryear’s service stations to convenience stores and now even to amenity-rich travel centers, Billups Coffee may soon be found near petrol pumps.
“We travel a lot, so we’ve bought a lot of coffee at gas stations,” Hattie said. “We’d like to have our brand carried in a lot of them.”
Guy has always been impressed by his grandfather’s legacy of using his gas stations to employ men who were still emerging from the Great Depression.
“I’d love for us to build this business and hire lots of people,” he said.