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Senor Coffee: Helping Grow a Better Bean

Guatemala native Martin Mayorga is helping to grow a better bean, with his Rockville, Maryland-based Senior Coffee, which landed at No. 1,383 on the 2010 Inc. 5000.

John Davis

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Guatemala native Martin Mayorga came to the United States in 1983 at age 10. He returned to his Central American roots in 1997, when he started Mayorga Coffee, a Rockville, Maryland-based company that imports coffee mainly from small, eco-friendly farms in places such as Honduras and Nicaragua. Sales at Mayorga topped $16 million in 2010, landing it at No. 1,383 on the 2011 Inc. 5000. Darren Dahl caught up with Mayorga to find out how business has been since.

I began importing cigars from Nicaragua when I was a student at Georgetown. Coffee was the next natural progression. Maybe I was idealistic, but I saw an opportunity to help Latin American farmers sell their products to a global market.

A real turning point for the company was landing Costco as a customer in 2001. That relationship helped us scale up quickly. They taught us how we could sell into arenas that microroasters typically don't think they can compete in. Our coffee is now sold in more than 1,700 retail and food-service locations nationwide, including our own chain of 10 retail shops.

We expect to import and sell about 2.5 million pounds of coffee in 2012.

When I started the business, I was in my 20s and I used to travel nonstop. Now that I'm almost 40, I've cut my travel down by about half. I've realized that I have established the kinds of relationships where I can now just pick up the phone and talk to someone. Technology is a beautiful thing.

The past couple of years have been difficult, as commodity prices have been going crazy. The economy also affected our retail sales, which have been down. The most important thing for us is to make a difference in the communities where we get our coffee beans. We're trying to make farmers an influential part of the process and not just poster children for poverty.

Last updated: May 29, 2012

DARREN DAHL

Darren Dahl is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, North Carolina.




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