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Raleigh-Durham

Raleigh-Durham

Gateway to the South.

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Insider Profiles

The Roast of Raleigh

Larry Larson"I started off just being a coffee geek."


Gandhi famously said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Less famously, he also said, "Cold coffee is bad coffee," and based on those two thoughts, it seems like he and Larry Larson would have a lot to talk about. Through Larry's Beans, a fair-trade, organic coffee company, Larson hopes to show customers and competitors alike that a sustainable business model is not only possible, but profitable as well.

Larson, a Seattle native, originally came to North Carolina to go to grad school, but somewhere between enrollment and graduation he got sidetracked because of the coffee he wasn't being served in the area. "I decided to drop out and start a company because I fundamentally believed that consumers desired a good cup of coffee," he says. "They just hadn't been exposed to it yet. And I knew that good coffee would be appreciated no matter how hot it gets."

Larson immersed himself in coffee culture, working first as a java slinger at Cup A Joe, learning how to roast the beans, then taking those green beans and his equally green ideas and starting his own shop. "It was all trial and error," he says of his early days, the ones filled with constant experimentation. "It was difficult to get information. You didn't just call up the other coffee roasters and say, 'Hey, can you show me how to roast coffee?'"

Within three years, Larson sold his coffee house to focus on the beans themselves and his own business practices. Larry's Beans became a founding member of Cooperative Coffees, a group of independent coffee roasters that work to "build and support fair-trade relationships" with farmers who grow and harvest coffee beans. (Forget about those coffee shops where they write your name on the cup; Larson could write the names of coffee farmers on the side of one of his biodegradable bags.)

"I started off just being a coffee geek," Larson says, explaining how his focus has changed over the years. "I got into business because I thought people would enjoy a good cup of coffee. That evolved into fair trade, that involved into being organic, and that evolved into being a sustainable business."

Larson does his part to live up to Gandhi's famous quote. In addition to the biodegradable bags he uses, he makes deliveries in a bus powered by vegetable oil that would have otherwise been dumped by local restaurants. Also, his entire warehouse has solar heat and uses natural light. And, thanks to a recent appointment to the Raleigh Environmental Advisory Board, he can educate other entrepreneurs on how to get in touch with their own green sides.

All of that, and he can still make the kind of coffee he craved as a college student — steaming cups that make him feel good and that he can feel good about.

"People can go buy Larry's Beans and know exactly where on the planet it came from and the impact that it will have," he says. "I really like to compete with everyone else, so it would be great if all of my competitors would be sustainable too."

Check out Larry's Raleigh.