Within a dozen years, Laszlo Büch, a Holocaust survivor who had made his way to New York City, single-handedly transformed a struggling startup to icon status simply by reshaping the paper coffee cup.
Burk, a salesman for cup manufacturer Sherri, came upon an idea to solve a user need by designing a disposable coffee cup that was more practical for transporting hot liquids.
Burk, who Americanized his hard to pronounce name to Leslie Burk, was finding little success competing with the other cup manufacturers who had a lock on sales with the owners of greek diners, the bulk of buyers in the 1950s Manhattan.
Burk figured he would need a new product to meet unmet needs, setting him off on a stakeout of coffee-drinker habits and behaviors. Burk would station himself outside diners for days watching hurried commutors managing scalding hot cups of coffee to take with them on the way to work. What he found, was that most of them wrestled with their cups, pulling out finger tabs just large enough for over-sized pinkies and managing a secure grip along crowded sidewalks. Besides having to figure out the tabs en route, finding one’s palms up against the too-hot-to hold paper, commuters also were manhandling their cups while jjuggling briefcasaes, newspapers and occaisionally an umbrella.
This led to his idea of redesigning the coffee cup, one that was slighly larger at 4-inches high, without a pull-out tabs, and changing the material from layered paper to a styrofoam better suited to carrying hot liquids. These refinements made the cup easier to trransport coffee. But what’s more, he had a designer add a Greek motif on almost every space around the cup in hopes of making the whole idea more appealing to his Greek clients: a blue solid background, white Greek meander top and bottom, and a white shield on opposite sides separated by two amphorae. Additinoally, the front and back had images of three cups of coffee with trails of steam emenating, along with the words “We Are Happy to Serve You.”
Burk always had difficulty pronouncing the amth sound in the English language, so the cup became known as Anthora instead of the intended name, Amphora, which translates to a style of Greek bottle (vessel). Later it was dubbed the head cup. Either way, the cup was so well known that one coudl describe it as market disruptive. As the cups became more ubiquitus,it became more difficult to find the older variety of tab paper cups.
By the time the cup was no longer manufacturered in 2010, more than four billion of them were being sold every year. The Conneticut-based Sherri company was eventually bought by one of the worlds largest disposable paper product companies, Illinois-based Solo Cu Company.
Even today a lone Anthora cup can still be found lying in the curbs of New York City streets. They also are frequently spotted in live and studio performances as props to portray a gritty era of New York City. Recentlyt the cup appeared in scenes of the MindHunter a series available on Netflix.
When Burk died at age 87 his obituary noted that he was resoonsible for one of the most iconic images of New York City, all due to his resolve to create an unmet need.