The Buzz in Spartanburg: Coffee Culture

Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Buzz in Spartanburg: Coffee Culture

Posted on Thursday, February 04, 2016/Images/banners/Coffee-post.jpg

If you happen to be on the Mary Black Rail Trail during normal weekday business hours, you might find your curiosity piqued by a pleasant aroma as you arrive at the intersection with Marion Avenue. Follow your nose, and you will find yourself at one of Spartanburg's hidden gems: Little River Roasters. Inside you will find a coffee lover's paradise, with the smell of coffee from the roaster permeating the space and countless 150-pound burlap sacks of green coffee beans from around the world just waiting to be turned into a delicious cup of Joe.

This is the epicenter of Spartanburg’s coffee culture, which also includes funky downtown options, some locally operated drive-thrus and the omnipresent Starbucks chain.

The driving force behind Little River is the proprietor, Gervais Hollowell. A fountain of enthusiasm and coffee knowledge, he has spent the last 15 years building LRR into a thriving enterprise, and it's not even his main job. In 2001, Gervais purchased Little River from a cookie seller in Flat Rock, N.C. who wanted to focus on the culinary aspect of his business. In between the time he spent at his real job, overseeing the cooking at a girls summer camp, he worked out of his garage roasting coffee. Initially, there was only one farmer in Cameroon who supplied him with beans. Since then, Little River moved into the space at 460 Marion Ave. and has gone global, establishing relationships with farmers in 18 countries and counting, including Nicaragua, Ethiopia, and Peru. For the economically conscious among us, you can rest assured that Gervais' suppliers receive a price above fair trade. He also works to visit each seller personally to establish good relations.

To experience Little River at the source, drop by the roaster and grab a cup. All you have to do is drop a dollar in the jar and pump your own. While there, shop Little River’s selection of upscale brewing equipment and coffee accessories or pick up a bag of freshly roasted beans.

Little River is also part of downtown Spartanburg, operating the Coffee Bar in the Masonic Temple (188 West Main St.) alongside the Hub City Bookshop since 2010. The Coffee Bar has become a mainstay of a revitalized downtown, and a wonderful place to have a meeting, do some work, or just catch up with the townsfolk. If you’re looking to make connections, get there early and you’re sure to see the town’s movers and shakers. You can even sit at a café table on the wide sidewalk.

The future looks bright for LRR, and Gervais is hopeful another shop can be opened in town. He says his success wouldn’t have been possible as recently as a decade ago, but his efforts have clearly yielded some incredible results.

Another homegrown coffee enterprise, Bella Latte, offers patrons an authentic Italian espresso experience. Opening the doors to its flagship location in 2006 (1595 E Main St, Duncan), Bella Latte is the brainchild of founder Paul Melotte. Unsatisfied with the standard 10x10 drive-thru espresso shop, he wanted Bella Latte to be able to sit across from a nationwide chain and look like a competitor, despite being completely local.

With the attractive logo, a welcoming physical space, and talented baristas who make latte art, Bella Latte guarantees its customers a first class experience. When I ask Paul what he feels make his business unique, I assume he’s going to say it’s these touches. But, like any passionate entrepreneur, it’s the product that sets Bella Latte apart. For him, it’s all about the consistency of its handcrafted offerings. “A place like Starbucks is too big to make handcrafted drinks, so they rely on machines. Lots of smaller companies get complaints because the product can be inconsistent. We never get complaints at Bella Latte. Our customers know they’re going to get the same thing every time.”

Since the first store opened, Bella Latte has opened up a second location to serve the city of Spartanburg (1637 John B White Sr. Blvd). Paul and the baristas continue to work hard perfecting new profiles and espresso blends, so stop in for an authentic Italian espresso.

The newest addition to the Spartanburg coffee landscape is Lit Coffee on the corner of Church and Dunbar downtown. Staffed by an enthusiastic group of young men, stop by their open-air space for great conversation and an amazing cup of pour-over coffee. These guys are working for free so they can put everything into expanding into a more permanent physical space. They’ll deliver for $1 a cup if you call 864-401-9523. Their motto is “We Love Coffee. But We Love People More.” Five percent of proceeds go to refugee charities.

And if you’re looking for a quiet place to read or have a meeting, you might be surprised to know that the newly opened upscale Brown Roof Thrift Store (141 Fernwood Drive) has a delightful little coffee shop inside.

In addition to our homegrown locations, you can also get your Starbucks fix at two different locations. For a sit down, take advantage of the shop located inside Barnes and Noble on W.O. Ezell. Or if you’re in a rush, try the drive-thru on South Pine. Spartanburg continues to be a city on the move, and there’s no shortage of places to grab a cup of caffeine to make sure you don’t miss a bit of it.

Little River Roasting
The Coffee Bar
Bella Latte
Lit Coffee

Brad Wright, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.

Brad Wright is a Spartanburg native and works as a resource development officer for the United Way of the Piedmont. When he's not entertaining his lab Rex Banner you can find him at most Hub City Bookshop events or jogging along the Mary Black Rail Trail. He loves to discuss pop culture ephemera, the Appalachian Trail and his recent appearance on Jeopardy!

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