Raleigh Roundtable 3 - Larry's Coffee

Good morning!

Welcome to the Raleigh Roundtable, a weekly email about my interviews with business owners throughout the Triangle. On campus, in the media, and online, working at a large company with benefits until you retire and "Shark Tank" startup culture are celebrated, while small business and real estate ownership is often vilified.

Well, I disagree. Most of the millionaires in this country own their own businesses. And after interacting with nearly a hundred business owners at this point, I know that they're just normal people with families who play a crucial role in supporting our economy. This newsletter showcases business owners and features their stories, challenges they've faced, and what they learned from their experiences.

This week we sat down with Larry Larson, owner of Larry's Coffee in the Five Points area of Raleigh. His story is unique and their coffee is delicious!

Larry Larson, Owner of Larry's Coffee

"In the beginning, it was just me, a Subaru, and a coffee roaster. I had $3,000 in savings when I dropped out of school to start this business."

Larry grew up around the Seattle, Washington area and eventually moved to Raleigh to pursue a career in academia. While on the path to earning a master's in business, he worked at Cup of Joe on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. Fun fact: he was their first employee to roast coffee.

During class one day, he had an epiphany - "I imagined myself working at a cubicle all day and it made me miserable." So he chose the "create something yourself" path and started Larry's Coffee. Today, they have partnerships in grocery stores throughout the Southeast and a significant online presence.

JP: How has COVID-19 affected your business?

LL: The restaurant, university, and office accounts went down pretty substantially. But our online sales have gone through the roof; they're up 300%. We're looking to expand our presence on Amazon and continue growing.

JP: What would you do differently if you had the chance to do it all over again?

LL: Delegation is a skill. If I could do it all over again, I would set the business up to not require my participation in its everyday activities.

Also - hire the best talent you can. Start at the top and work your way down from there. That's a big mistake I made in the beginning - I hired at the bottom and tried to work my way up. Get the best talent for what you can afford first.

I like to give people a chance - I'm an optimist. But I've incorrectly assumed that whoever I hire can see the whole picture - often they really can't (at least in the beginning). Someone has to manage the folks at the bottom of the organization. If you don't put a higher-level manager in place, the product is not going to create itself and so everything falls to you as the owner.

JP: What were some challenges you experienced along the way?

LL: The tougher times in the business came later. You have to remember, when I started Larry's, Starbucks hadn't even made it to the East Coast yet. The competition wasn't what it is today.

The hardest part of running the business for me is managing people. I'm great at developing ideas, inspiring others to take action, and thinking about the world of business in a way that's a bit different. But managing people is a unique skill set.


Hire a general manager early on. It relates to the E-Myth's concept of working ON the business, (not in the business), and Stephen Covey's Quadrant 2 (making time for the important but not urgent).

Another lesson: understand your weaknesses and hire accordingly. Sure, you should work on your weak points and improve yourself, but if it's not your "thing" and you have the ability to hire someone to specialize in something like managing people, it seems to be well worth the cost.

It's interesting to see what influences people's life decisions. For Larry, it was working at a coffee shop in Raleigh. For someone else, maybe it's reading the right book or talking to the right person. Have you experienced something similar in your life?

I picked up some decaf (below) & it's AWESOME. If you're a coffee drinker, check out Larry's Coffee.

Larry is looking to hire a general manager. Know someone?
Reach out to Larry here

Want to be considered for a Roundtable interview?

Have a Raleigh business for me to check out? 

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