Repository Profile - Marriott International

I'll Drink To That!
by Katie Dishman, Corporate Archivist, Marriott International, Inc.

While Marriott is now a multi-billion dollar corporation, it all began with a drink, specifically A&W Root Beer.  It was a fitting endeavor for young J.W. “Bill” Marriott who was newly graduated from the University of Utah in 1926 and looking for a profession. 

Bill and his sweetheart, Alice Sheets (pictured left in 1927), had patronized an A&W stand in Salt Lake City and were fond of the drink.  Discovering one of his cousins owned an A&W franchise in Indiana, Bill consulted with him along with the local owner about the business.  Bill learned about the origins of the soda: a man named Roy Allen, who with partner Frank Wright, in 1919 established a place in Lodi, California, to sell their carbonated soft drink.  Although the recipe was secret, the ingredients included, in part, wintergreen leaves, sassafras, birch bark, anise seed, and dandelion root. 

Allen and Wright sold their drink in Sacramento where it was exceptionally hot in the summer. The two men, whose initials became the namesake of the product, had invented a refrigeration system to en-sure the beverage could be served cold.  In addition, as cars became more popular in the 1920s, they had made some of their shops into drive-ins so customers could sit in their vehicles and have the 5-cent mug delivered to them.

After Allen bought out Wright, the sole owner began selling franchises, a new concept, to people if they agreed to purchase Allen’s root beer concentrate, cooling equipment, and other supplies.  So in 1927, Bill ventured back to Washington, D.C., where he had visited briefly during his Mormon mission, and met up with his partner, Hugh Colton, a friend from Utah. They had their first location picked out at 3128 Fourteenth Street, in a small space.  Unable to easily fit the equipment necessary to produce the root beer, Allen sent an assistant to help Bill and Hugh configure the store front.  The grand opening, on May 20, 1927, was quite successful. 

Bill had left his now fiancée, Alice, in Utah to finish college, and returned in June to attend her graduation and get married.  Immediately after they moved to their new home on the east coast the bride helped with the business, especially as a second A&W stand opened on Ninth Street.  Partner Hugh Colton sold his portion of the company after the first year, and the Marriotts took full charge of their growing enterprise. 

Alice’s college degree in Spanish was particularly helpful as the fledgling franchisees got permission from A&W’s Allen to begin selling food to enable them to stay in business during the winter months when people were not so inclined to buy cold drinks.  By getting recipes from the nearby Mexican Embassy for hot tamales and Mexican chili, and adding a couple of other items like hot dogs and barbecue sandwiches, the renamed Hot Shoppes became a success in D.C. and beyond.

Note:  Repository Profilies are provided by the organization.  The Business Archives Section will update as notified by the organization.  Accordingly, information may not be accurate.  Individuals should contact the organization before using or citing information.


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