Entrepreneur Seeks Social Change With Sustainable Coffee Sales

Morning wakeup meets global shakeup for this hopeful local startup

Budding bean-roaster Owen Carver | Photo by Jon Estrada

Budding bean-roaster Owen Carver | Photo by Jon Estrada

Walking into Owen Carver’s Summerlin home on a Thursday morning, the scent of freshly brewed coffee permeates the air. Considering that the house doubles as headquarters for his Web design company, All In Web Pro, where a staff of four are frantically toiling over laptops, that’s not surprising. A glance into the kitchen, however, confirms that coffee isn’t simply a caffeine supply for this team. Alongside a sparkling new coffeemaker sit a half-dozen or so premium coffees. In front of them is a stack of grading sheets, allowing for each to be judged on fragrance, flavor, aftertaste, acidity and mouth feel, with 12-25 descriptive choices in each category. These people are clearly serious about coffee, and they should be. They’re about to go into the coffee business—with aspirations much greater than simply making a great cup of joe.

On December 19, Carver was set to start shipping online orders of Café do Paraíso, Vegas’ own boutique coffee company. The beans are imported directly from his friend Gisele Montans, whose family owns a coffee farm in Brazil. And he recently took a five-day roasting course in Upland, California, taught by Klatch’s Mike Perry, one of the top 10 roasters in the U.S., in order to roast the beans himself. (He’s hoping to join a small local fraternity of commercial coffee roasters that also includes Sunrise Coffee House’s Mother Ship Coffee, Chieti Coffee, Colorado River Coffee Roasters and Frankly Good Coffee.)

The initial rollout is small, with only 1,300 12-ounce bags expected to be produced between now and February. That’s because Carver doesn’t own his own roaster yet (he’s hoping to have one by February), so for now he has to drive small batches to Upland, California, roast them with Perry’s team, and drive them back.

Given all that effort, you would expect Carver to be a coffee fanatic. But he’s not. It’s a means to an end, but not a financially centric one. While he’s determined to create amazing coffee and run a profitable business, what drives him is something much more important: “Coffee was an opportunity to make a business,” he explains. “And that’s nice. But if the business I’m working in isn’t explicitly, in its mission, making the world a better place, my heart’s not behind it.”

Carver believes he can achieve his mission by buying his beans directly from Montans. The horrendous living and working conditions of many coffee workers are well documented. To avoid complicity in their suffering, Carver wants to personally know and trust the person from whom he’s buying his beans, and see firsthand the working conditions on their farm.

Cafe do Paraíso

Cafe do Paraíso

For every pound of coffee Carver sells, he plans to donate $1 to a pair of education funds, one in Brazil, the other in Las Vegas (he hasn’t yet selected the local cause). The coffee’s biodegradable packaging will feature stories about locals who are changing the world in a positive way. His ultimate goal: “Lead a new social movement in the U.S. that makes everyone realize they personally have the power to  change the world and solve our biggest problems by voting with their dollars for sustainable, transparent companies, and by becoming a local hero in their community by organizing projects and events that make a positive impact and inspire others to do the same.”

The longer Carver speaks about the project, the more he comes up with ideas on how to use the company as an engine of good. Those ideas are built into his business plan, he says, “to make this the most sustainable, ethical, environmentally friendly coffee out there.”

That’s almost impressive enough to convince me to start drinking coffee.