If you haven’t heard about – or smelled and savored – Counter Culture Coffee and you love fresh coffee, you might very soon. Watch out, Starbucks?

If you are attending Moogfest this week, be sure to check out some exquisite Counter Culture brand between venues … While Durham is known for its craft breweries, there’s much more going on than beer. And the Counter Culture success story will soon spread to Seattle, Starbucks’ hometown.

In all the hype about technology startups across the Triangle, it’s easy to overlook an emerging company that smells of success. Counter Culture Coffee, a venture focusing on providing the best in coffee through sustainability and education from grower to drinker with a growing client list of customers (nearly 3 million pounds of beans sold this year) and expanding ranks of award-winning baristas.

While Durham’s tech sector has exploded over the past two decades, so too has its food and culture scene. As Brett Smith of Counter Culture describes it: “Durham now has this amazing culinary scene and new establishments, and it’s experienced a total rebirth.”

The company, which is privately held, is not new, dating back to 1995. But from the ground up, it’s a North Carolina success story with a recent move into a new headquarters in East Durham the latest sign of growth.

The Skinny recently interviewed Counter Culture’s co-founder and president Brett Smith about the company, its mission, its growth, and what the future may hold.

  • Congratulations on the new facility. Why did you choose to relocate in East Durham?

We’ve been in Durham since we started the company in 1995, and we’ve always been proud to be a part of this great city.

For the past 20 years we have been on the edge of South Durham but wanted to move closer to downtown. We’ve been looking for years, and when we found this building that was idle, we thought it was a great opportunity to take something dead and bring it to life.

  • How did the firm come to be located in Durham, and why?

I graduated from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School in 1994 and wanting to start a company I could really be proud of.

I wasn’t sure what kind of company it would be, but I wanted to stay in the Triangle and build a great, sustainable company that would attract passionate and talented people. I love living in Chapel Hill, and Durham now has this amazing culinary scene and new establishments, and it’s experienced a total rebirth.

  • Durham is known for its great, growing entrepreneurial sector. How does Counter Culture blend in, so to speak, with the startup culture? It appears this is a very entrepreneurial company.

Over the years we’ve grown from a local company to being nationwide with 10 different locations and four locations currently being built out. We’re servicing individual restaurants, small independent cafes and nationwide grocery chains.

We’ve been a startup, and now we’re at a phase of growth — currently at just under 3 million pounds of coffee this year.

For us to continue growing we have to build a team of passionate, skilled, bright people who are knowledgeable about growing a company in a variety of fields from tech to private equity and venture.

  • North Carolina’s craft breweries are gaining quite a following. Does your company and breweries such as Fullsteam benefit from each other? If so, how? How do you help each other?

We’ve worked with many craft breweries, including Fullsteam, over the years to create exclusive coffee beers. There’s a lot of parallels between coffee and the craft beer industry, and I’ve personally gotten to know many folks in the brewing industry.

Fullsteam’s founder Sean Lilly Wilson is a friend; through the years, he and I have had many conversations about Durham and the growing businesses here. That entrepreneurial spirit that we both have feeds off each other. Fullsteam is a great example of a business focusing on a craft product that started simple and has been true to its purpose as it has grown. It’s a real inspiration to our team… an example of what the entrepreneurial community offers.

At Counter Culture we’re inspired and motivated by those around us, and we have the privilege of setting an example for others in Durham too.

  • Why is sustainability so important to Counter Culture?

At the end of the day, I feel that building a business through the lens of sustainability is the best model to have consistent long-term growth, profitability and success. It’s not a compromise or a sacrifice but a very sound and fundamental business model that every company should embrace. Pursuing sustainability is good for business and really just the right thing to do from many perspectives.

  • Why expand to Los Angeles?

We opened our West Coast roastery in the Bay Area last year because there’s great opportunities for us to take what we do into incredible coffee markets like San Francisco, next L.A. and then after a few months, Seattle.

By having a larger geographic footprint, we can be selective and seek out the right partnerships with wholesale partners with whom we’re best aligned.

​Next: The secret to Counter Culture’s success