Greenco Beverage Company was founded in Greenville, SC as a Chero Bottling and Distribution Company in 1916 by W. W. Woodruff and located at 139 Rhett St.. Our original line of products included Chero Cola (the name was changed to Royal Crown Cola in 1934), Royal Crown Ginger Ale, Royal Crown Strawberry and Royal Crown Root Beer. After 10 years of bottling and distributing sodas, our company was sold to Robert A. Jolley in 1926.
Robert A. Jolley
Known as Albert as a young boy, Jolley grew up on a Georgia farm. Fed up with ploughing, chopping and picking cotton, the 16-year-old boy finally decided he had had enough and declared to his father “I’m not going to work on a farm anymore!” So, he walked into town, three miles away, and asked the grocer for a job. “Albert, its summertime,” Lewis, the grocer said, “and it’s the worst time of the year for the grocery business.” But the young man insisted so he was given a job paying $5 a month, and board. Although as boys will, he ate his share of candy, cheese and crackers, and his salary was soon raised to $10 a month.
Later, the boss said: “Albert, I’ve got you a job in Dawson with the Central of Georgia R.R.” The grocer’s helper was heartbroken, thinking he had done something wrong. “Of course not,” Lewis said, “but this job will pay you $40 a month!” After he had been in Dawson, GA almost a year, the superintendent came along, watched him work and asked his age. When they said he was just 17, they had to let him go because the company insurance wouldn’t cover a boy so young. So, it was back to the grocery store, where Lewis tossed him the keys and said “Albert, open up in the morning!”
Soon, however, another job came along in the local post office which paid $50 a month. And, one day a man showed up, looked him over and decided he wanted him to operate a Chero-Cola bottling company in Carrolton, the 13th such company in the nation.
That energetic, hard working young man, Robert A. Jolley, well-known in Greenville as a bottler and Radio-TV executive, remembers that when he and his bride got off the train in Carrolton that March day, he had just $50 in his pocket – all the money he had in the world. He ran the bottling works while his benefactor’s son was out selling their products. Then, one day another man turned up, offered to loan him the money to buy out the company – which he did. “Six years later I sold the plant for $40,000”, Jolley recalls, “and I thought I was the richest man in the world.”
After looking at bottling plants in other towns, he finally bought one in Anderson and moved there in 1919. “It wasn’t smooth sailing by any means,” he remembers. “There was a depression in 1921; then, too, we had to give up the cola part of the name – and the Chero name alone didn’t go over so well. But, I had started using the big 12-ounce bottles and made a drink which I called “Big Boy”, using banana extract for flavor.”
In 1923, he started selling his first Nehi drinks (the name coming from someone’s remark that he was putting up his drinks in “knee-high bottles”!).
No longer “Albert” but “Bob” in South Carolina, Jolley soon made friends here who recognized his ability, dependability and integrity as had his Georgia friends. One day J.W. Norwood, a Greenville banker, asked him to come over to discuss a Chero bottling plant which was for sale. With Norwood’s help, he bought our company in 1926 and relocated to 243 Rhett St.
Again, it was hard sledding for a while.
“Almost at once the legislature put a penny tax on each bottle of soft drinks sold; in addition, I had to buy bottles, cases and trucks and before I knew it, I was $40,000 in debt,” he says. “I couldn’t afford to move my family over here – so they stayed in Anderson for a while.” It was just before the national election in 1932, and he figured that, if Franklin Roosevelt was elected, the first thing he would do would be to legalize beer. “I didn’t know there was any beer other than Schlitz,” he says, “so I went to Milwaukee and finally managed to get in to see the right man in the Schlitz Brewing Company. I persuaded him to give me the franchise for his beer, when and if it was legalized. I think he agreed just to get rid of me.”
Sure enough, soon after Roosevelt was elected, beer was legalized and then the South Carolina General Assembly declared it non-intoxicating. “So I had to raise $3,500 for a train car load of beer.” Jolley said. “Again Mr. Norwood came to my rescue and co-signed my note. But, the car came in on the P&N early one morning before the banks were open. I went down, broke the seal on the car and sold every drop then and there to thirsty people who came from all over, paid cash and hauled it away – and I didn’t have to go for the money!”
After Chero Bottling Company became Nehi Corporation in 1926, our company changed names to Nehi Bottling Company. In 1946, after Bob decided to divest of our bottling operation and focus on malt beverage distribution, he changed our company name to Greenco Beverage Company (standing for Greenville County). After many years of selling Schlitz Brewing Company products, and after his son was appointed Post Master General, Bob decided to transfer ownership to his son-in-law’s longtime friend, Judd Farr in 1965.
Known as “J.B.” as a youth growing up in Athens, Georgia, Judd was an exceptional athlete, holding records at the University of Georgia. After serving his country in World War II, Judd moved to Greenville, South Carolina where he found employment with Acme Steel Company and became a successful district manager. It was here that he met his wife Betty and together they started a family. Later, at age of 39, he learned that he was to be transferred to Chicago, Illinois. Now with five children, and twins on the way, Judd was adamantly opposed to this move. Combining this with the fact that Betty loved her hometown of Greenville, he declined the offer. Family always meant a tremendous amount to the Farrs.
With the decision made, Judd began exploring his options. On a golf outing with longtime friend, Mac Bruce, Judd asked Mac if he would speak with his father-in-law, Mr. Jolley, to see if he would be interested in selling his beer business. Mac spoke to Mr. Jolley, and he invited Judd in to discuss the possibilities. Mr. Jolley agreed to sell his business to Judd and a telephone call was made to Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. for approval and the deal was sealed. At the time, Mr. Jolleys' business consisted of distributing three brands of beer: Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, and Schlitz Malt Liquor.
Judd then approached friend Nap Vandiver of South Bank and Trust Co., to secure a loan for the purchase. Believing in Judd, Nap made the loan for the acquisition.
The Rest of the Story
For the next 40 years, through appointments and acquisitions, Judd diversified our portfolio to include various domestic and import beer brands as well as soft drinks. After Judd retired in 2004, his wife Betty stepped in as President. Under her leadership, our company has diversified even more with the addition of numerous micro-brewery brands, as well as Miller and Yuengling.
At Greenco Beverage Company we are very proud of the fact that through three names and three families, our company has supported our community and provided employment and security for many families, and has delivered fresh beverages to the North Western upstate of South Carolina since 1916.