The Ambitions of Per’La are Nothing Less Than Industry Changing
For company co-founder Christopher Nolte, “People telling me that I’ve ruined their perception of coffee is my greatest win.” That, in a nutshell, is the aim of Per’La Specialty Roasters: To re-educate the taste buds of coffee drinkers, so that they will come to appreciate – and demand – a finer, fresher brew.
So far, with accounts won at numerous local hotels and restaurants, Per’La is doing just that – teaching staid coffee drinkers that there is a better approach, with locally roasted blends that elevate the experience. No more stale coffee from places like Italy, where it’s likely to have been warehoused for many months.
The idea for Per’La was born five years ago, when two buddies from the University of Miami rekindled their friendship and decided that the specialty coffee industry was decades behind the specialty, locally brewed beer industry.
Both of them – Nolte and partner Paul Massard – had been business majors at UM, and both had 10 years in the working world under their belts. Nolte had been a successful sales executive in the medical industry while Massard had been working for coffee roasters in the Midwest and Hawaii. “He had become a master roaster, an expert in sourcing and roasting, while I had become really good at sales and marketing,” says Nolte. “It was a nice, harmonious blend.”
After running their business plan past advisors at UM’s Launch Pad business incubator, the team combined resources to purchase a $90,000 coffee roaster. They located it in a warehouse just outside Coral Gables (you can’t have food production facilities in the city), later setting up a retail “House of Per’La” outlet on Almeria Avenue. But first came the tough job of establishing the brand.
“There was a lot of cold calling and the awkward conversations. You don’t have any credibility at first,” says Nolte. “Our biggest hurdle was getting people to take the risk to switch to a higher quality product, rather than the established multinational brands they were comfortable with.” The breakthrough came with an account at the Ritz Carlton Bal Harbor, followed by the Ritz Carltons in South Beach and Key Biscayne. Since then, they have scored numerous local hotels and restaurants, places like the Café at Books & Books and Eating House.
“It was a great experience getting to work with Paul Massard in creating a custom blend for us at the restaurant,” says Giorgio Rapicavoli, the chef/owner of Eating House. “It was such a great product, and their enthusiasm for it was contagious.” Within three months of starting up, Per’La had broken even, and was debt free within 15 months. By 2019, the company had annual sales close to $1 million – though the pandemic tapered sales last year. They source their beans mostly from Central and South America, with some from East Africa and Indonesia. Almost all comes from individual farms with which Massard developed relationships.
“Roasting to order is the future of the industry,” says Nolte. “We ship the same day the coffee is ordered, roasted the day before. Charging four or five dollars per cup for year-old coffee is not where it’s at.”