Monday, December 10, 2018
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 and locally-operated coffee roaster and drive-thrus.
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. 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 20 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 at 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 native Spartanburgers. 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 of Little River Roasting looks bright with yet another location coming to The Montgomery Building downtown. The historic building has been the focus of a multimillion-dollar redevelopment effort with refurbished apartments and office spaces sitting atop the first floor, where Little River will open along with Sidewall Pizza Co.
Hollowell dreamt of a location inside the Montgomery Building, only two blocks from the West Main Street location, for years. The Montgomery Building location will focus on specialty coffees with an emphasis on locally-roasted beans and the environment where drinkers enjoy their coffee.
Another homegrown coffee enterprise, Bella Latte, offers patrons an authentic Italian espresso experience. Opening the doors to its flagship location in 2006 at 1595 E Main St. in Duncan, Bella Latte is the brainchild of founder Paul Melotte. Unsatisfied with the standard 10×10 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.”
Bella Latte, along with coffee roaster and supplier Mozza Roasters, were among the first retail spots to open inside the renovated Drayton Mills Marketplace. Mozza Roasters occupies a 4,000-square foot space at Drayton, with old, wooden beams meeting brick walls to bring a sense of warm to that hot cup of joe. Coffees from Asia, Africa and South America along with other single-origin coffees are roasted in house for everything from cups of black coffee to handcrafted cappuccinos and iced coffees.
Mozza Roasters’ Drayton Mills spot has something for everyone, for someone looking for a quick caffeine kick to the home brewer looking to take their at-home coffee to the next level. Spartanburg has given a warm welcome to innovative and cozy places taking locally-roasted beans and brewing them into fresh cups of joe.