Jack Cohen (Tesco)

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Sir John Edward Cohen (6 October 189824 March 1979), born Jacob Edward Kohen and commonly known as Jack Cohen, was a British businessman who founded the Tesco supermarket chain. He was born in Whitechapel in the East End of London, the son of a Avroam Kohen, an immigrant Polish-Jewish tailor, and his first wife, Sime Zamremba.

He began his working life as an apprentice tailor to his father but in 1917 he joined the Royal Flying Corps where he served as a canvas maker. Upon his demobilization in 1919 he established himself as a market stall holder in Hackney, in London's East End by purchasing surplus NAAFI stock with his demob money.

He soon became the owner of a number of market stalls, and started a wholesale business. In 1924, he created the Tesco brand name from the initials of a tea supplier, T. E. Stockwell (formally Messrs Torring and Stockwell of Mincing Lane), and the first two letters of his surname. The first two Tesco stores opened at Becontree and Burnt Oak in 1931. By 1939, Cohen owned a hundred Tesco stores.

Sometime around 1930 he changed his name by deed poll to John Edward at suggestion of his bank manager whose staff had trouble distinguishing between the many Jacob Cohens banking at the Mare Street branch in Hackney.

In 1948, he witnessed the American trend for self-service supermarkets, and opened the first such shop in Britain. Around 1949, Cohen moved to Finchley, where he bought a block of flats called Moss Hall Court.

He was married to Sarah Fox, daughter of an immigrant Russian-Jewish tailor. They had two daughters, Shirley and Irene, the former now Dame Shirley Porter, notorious former leader of Westminster Council, and an Israeli resident.

Cohen was knighted in 1969.