imageWhat should “coffee shop” really mean?

Walk into 42 & Lawrence on the ground floor of SkyHouse in downtown Raleigh for the answer.

For owner and serial coffee entrepreneur Larry Larson, life isn’t about lucky numbers and winning the lottery. “You don’t buy happiness, it comes from within,” and for him health is a big part of achieving that happiness.

The small space, designed to be creative and reflective, is a stop-and-go refueling station focused on health.

“More and more research is showing that coffee is good for you,” said Larson. Opening Cary’s first coffee house in 1994, Larson soon sold Paradigm to focus on roasting, operating first as Larry’s Beans and then as Larry’s Coffee as he expanded into cold brews stocked at Whole Foods and other retail outlets.

image“Coffee, coffee, coffee is how I want people to remember us,” Larson said, self-described as a “dissident science/economics type gone wild with coffee.” He and his staff love to share their passion and knowledge, enjoying the experimentation and discovery of new ways to brew and how to make great cup from different beans. But it’s not all seriousness. The bowler hat LED lights are whimsical, a symbol of Larson’s zest for the unusual and light-hearted spirit.

The Modbar espresso machine — discovered on a reconnaissance trip to Austin and the only one in the Triangle — is nearly invisible, with only a gleaming spout between the customer and the barista. It’s representative of Larson’s passionate commitment to create the ultimate customer experience, explaining that his vision for 42 & Lawrence is “like the lobby of a boutique hotel, where pretty much any whim you have is fulfilled. I wanted to create a place where I would want to go every day.”

Sound is part of that experience, and Larson is adamant that 42 & Lawrence should be comfortable, a haven from the hustle and bustle of the street activity just outside its doors, “like a broken-in leather glove.” Although its combination of hard-surface modern chic with a rustic twist is a recipe for echoes and loud decibels, he’s taking numerous steps to dampen the din and will re-evaluate the measures’ success in a few weeks.

This time Larson’s not stopping with coffee. A true coffee geek, 42 & Lawrence is named for the 42 coffee beans Voltaire claimed it takes to make a perfect cup1 and “Lawrence because it needed an ‘and'” — the perfect add-on that keeps it open to whatever Larson’s current whim might be.

For now, it’s juice. Available a couple of weeks after the doors open, it will be cold-pressed and blended to order onsite, from a juice rail. It works just like wine on tap; nitrogen pushes the juices out while keeping them airtight so the fresh ingredients don’t oxidize.

The shop will have six different bottles on tap at a time, and customers will likely order a base of blend of green, carrot or beet and adding an accent or two to taste.

“All the local juice guys are really good but I get really tired of my flavor options after a few weeks,” Larson said. “I drink it every day, and want the variety.”

He also believes that certain juice combinations are helpful for short- and long-term benefits, and wants to create a vehicle for people to take charge of their own health.

“Consumers are likely to do research on how best to solve their ailments, determine ‘I want this combo,’ and I want them have that versatility,” he said.

The shop will also have nutritional information cards. “We’re not your doctor, but we’ll have the links to the research behind them.”

Stocking primarily organic products, Larson pays attention to what he uses, down to the jersey cows providing milk for the coffee. It’s the same attention to quality he’s always had, sourcing coffee microlots of “maybe only 2-3 sacks” from a farm around the world back in 1994 when “people didn’t get it.” He started focusing on Fair Trade in 1998, and started investigating the B Corp designation in 2008. Larry’s Coffee certified as a B Corp in 2011, recognized as “part of a global movement that aims to make business a powerful force for good.”

imageThinking different, and creativity, is ingrained in everything the company does. Rather than taping up simple brown Kraft paper, pages ripped from Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden covered the windows during construction.

The shop’s literary focus will continue when the doors open after a soft opening over the July 4th weekend. A narrow bookcase contains several “meaning of life” titles stocked by Larson and visitors who donate gently used books.

imageLarson “fully believes that your spirit knows what it needs, that it helps us solve problems. So just pick a book off the shelf and turn to the page for what you need. When you’re ready, often it’s that simple, there it is, just like a fortune cookie.”

Larson had to take his own advice on solving problems. The juice rail was a tough sell to do off-site, and doing it onsite meant considerable delays. But like a musician always looking for the next new challenge, Larson seemed to take it in stride, smiling over a sushi lunch with a few parting words of wisdom: “Let’s all live long and prosper.”

I’ll raise a glass of juice (or a latte) to that.

  1. And serendipitously the number 42 is also the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (calculated by an enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought over a period of 7.5 million years).
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