Early Years (1946-1989)
The Milo’s brand has roots that stretch back to the Great Depression. In 1939, Milo Carlton could be found behind the scenes in his brother’s North Birmingham restaurant, the Dipsey Doodle. One of five Carlton boys bitten by the restaurant bug, Milo did everything from mopping the floors to locking up after everyone else had gone home for the night. He spent the next two years learning as much as he could about the restaurant business, including the most important – listening to the voice of the customer.
Already a member of the National Guard, Milo’s unit was mobilized in February 1941, just months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It didn’t take the Army long to realize that Milo was gifted in the kitchen, and he found himself assigned to the Food Service Division while on active duty. Uncle Sam sent Milo through three different cooking schools and for the next four years, he cooked hamburgers in jeeps, on planes, on ships, in the back of trucks, in mess tents and on beaches in four different countries. He even found time to open a hamburger shop in Australia where he taught the locals Down Under just how an American burger should taste.
Milo was discharged in 1945 and wasted no time putting his Army experiences to good use. On April 16, 1946, Milo opened the first Milo’s Hamburger Shop on 31st Street and 12th Avenue North in Birmingham, Alabama. From day one, Milo set out to give customers a unique experience – whether it was the extra slice of beef on their burger or the special sauce they’d never tasted anywhere else, the piping hot hand made pies or ice-cold tea with a big bowl of sugar on the side – the customer always got more than what they expected. And that’s where Milo met his first greatest hurdle.
The war might be over but the rationing of staple items – such as sugar – was to remain for some years to come. Milo found himself faced with the dilemma of choosing to use his sugar ration to make pies or provide table sugar to sweeten the tea. How could he ask them to choose one over the other? And then it dawned on Milo to try something no one else had considered – he eliminated the sugar bowls from his tables and began to pre-sweeten the tea himself. This ensured enough from his sugar ration for pies and sweet tea!
Although this seems perfectly ordinary today, in the 1940s, customers initially balked at the idea. But then they tasted Milo’s Famous tea and realized this was something different… something better than they could make themselves. Soon the tea was as in demand as the burgers, fries and pies. Milo’s became the place to go for great food – all washed down with the finest tea anyone had ever tasted.
Modern Era (1989-2009)
In April of 1989, Milo’s began manufacturing and distributing its Famous Sweet Tea in gallon jugs to grocery stores in the Birmingham, Alabama area. The first grocery store to carry the product didn’t think people would buy the tea when they could make it themselves. But like his dad, Milo’s son Ronnie knew his customers and Milo’s Famous Tea was an instant success. Customers wanted a delicious fresh brewed tea like the kind that grandma made, and Milo’s Famous Sweet Tea did not disappoint. Due to strong demand, Milo’s introduced the convenient single serving size in 1997 and an unsweetened tea in 1999.
In 2002, Milo’s Tea Company sold the Milo’s hamburger chain in order to focus the business on one thing – making the best ready to drink available in the world. Milo’s used the capital from the restaurant sale to build a state of the art tea plant like no other in the world - because no one else in the world does what we do!
In addition to its own delivery trucks and traditional wholesale distributors, Milo’s began expanding its distribution territory by teaming up with dairy distributors in 2003. These companies are experienced in handling all-natural products and their larger refrigerated route systems proved beneficial for both parties in growing the Milo’s brand. Since 2003, several more distributors across the Southeast have teamed up with Milo’s to increase availability in stores throughout the Southeast region.
Another milestone occurred in 2006 when we introduced an often-requested and much anticipated item to the Milo’s family. In March, 2006 we began brewing Milo’s No-Calorie Tea sweetened with Splenda. This item has grown exponentially since its introduction and offers an alternative for folks who do not want sugar but still enjoy sweet tea! Today, you can enjoy Milo’s Sweet Tea (sweetened with Sugar) and No Calorie Sweet Tea (sweetened with Splenda) in 12 ounce, 20 ounce, and Gallon sizes, as well as Milo’s Unsweetened Tea in gallons.
In 2009, Milo’s Tea expanded into several new markets – Memphis, Little Rock, Paducah, KY, Middle Georgia and South Carolina. Milo’s Tea can now be found in retailers across 16 states: Currently, our teas are available in Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, Florida (the panhandle), Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Please visit our store locator to find a Milo’s retailer near you.
We are continually working toward national availability of Milo’s Tea. We will be available in some additional markets where people have been seeking out management at retailers and adamantly requesting Milo’s Tea. We are always careful to move just as deliberately as we do quickly so that we can maintain the quality and stability of our products and company. We are ever conscious of the responsibility to deliver a high quality product to the market every time. It’s because of you that we have become “famous,” and we know that. We are motivated to serve you, our customer, just like we’ve been doing for over 60 years.
Milo Carlton’s words of yesterday still echo in our halls keeping us mindful of our heritage as we move into tomorrow: “Listen to your customers, and give them what they want. Give them quality, and they will come back.”