Collectively Calibrated pt.1: Chris Nolte

images by dan karram | story by michelle hopper

When Chris Nolte met Paul Massard as a freshmen at the University of Miami, I'm sure his first thought wasn't "We should start a specialty coffee company together." Fifteen years and many memories later, the two reconnected over a text message, and today they own and operate Per'La Specialty RoastersDan and I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with Chris and Paul at the Per'La roastery, listening to their coffee stories, getting to know them better, and confirming all our suspicions that they have an incredible thing going on. They're serving some of the best coffee South Florida has to offer and doing it with the utmost professionalism, hospitality and kindness. A team made up of one Type A, Chris, and one Type B, Paul, they complement each other, picking up where the other leaves off. With a background in sales (among many things) Chris manages Per'La's branding, marketing and sales. His friendly personality and passion for excellence make him the perfect fit for the job. 

In part one of this special two part story, Chris shares his coffee story, unpacks Per'La's niche and gives us a glimpse into how he and Paul play to their different strengths and work together to make Per'La the incredible success that it is. 

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on your coffee story…

My coffee story prior to Per’La was pretty brief; I think I was exposed to a lot of commercial stuff (that passed as coffee) and lost interest very quickly. It wasn’t remotely close to being enjoyable. So really, prior to Paul, I was just exposed to your normal cuban coffee, commercial coffee and Starbucks, but I really didn’t drink a lot of caffeine at all.

Paul and I met freshman year of college at University of Miami (UM). It was the fall of 2001 and we were in the same fraternity, the same pledge class. I wasn’t able to go home for Thanksgiving that year so he invited me back to his parents house in Naples; it was great to meet his family there. We’ve been friends since then.

Once we started talking about Per’La - actually Paul sent me a text on my birthday, March 25th, 2015 - that’s when I started reading and researching more about specialty coffee. He was in Hawaii (at the time) and he would send me coffees to taste and so that kind of opened up things. I thought “Ok, this is different than what I’ve experienced before.” Once he (Paul) relocated here, we were able to try all of the coffees we had. When we got them on the cupping table that’s when the big difference started. I could tell the difference between an African coffee, a Central American coffee, a Brazilian coffee or a Sumatra.

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On Paul’s text...

This is really revolutionary: it said “Happy Birthday!” Guys are funny because they can go years without talking to each other and then can shoot over a text message and it’s like we just hung out the night before. So we started talking about entrepreneurship; both of our fathers have their own businesses and my wife works for the family business that her father started in Venezuela. Entrepreneurship was very much on the forefront of conversation. My wife would always say, “You’ve got to have your own business”. She was a pusher in that regard and I really appreciated it.

So Paul and I got to talking and we talked about the Miami market and specialty coffee. Paul was like, "This is going on, here’s the trend, there seems to be an opportunity, it’s interesting". So we talked more, and more, and more. It was an interesting conversation to have with my wife and my parents to say, “I’m thinking about starting a coffee business with Paul” to which they were like, “You hardly drink coffee and I’ve never met Paul, so I don’t know how that's going to work out.” Paul and I kept talking and developing what we thought could be our entry point and make us different and give us a good niche in the marketplace.

 

On Per’La’s niche…

I think our niche is that we want to be an approachable higher end experience. We want to package our product it in a way that whether you're a coffee shop, a restaurant, or a hotel that you can look at it and say, "This brand matches with my brand."  And not every concept matches with our brand, and we recognize that. Sometimes that’s better for both parties. I guess if you had to classify us, we’d be more corporate than hipster. That’s not a knock on anything hipster, that's really just where we see ourselves.

When we were designing the bags I wanted it to be like, you should hold this bag and think, “This looks like a nice bag of coffee.” Or “I could to give this to someone.” Or “This could sit on a shelf and it looks presentable”  Those type of things are often overlooked when you get a craft bag, or a bag that’s just kind of “blah” and you have this amazing product inside of it. It would be like if you bought this really nice watch and it came inside of this crappy paper box. The delivery method in addition to the product is part of the experience.
The professionalism aspect should be in everything that we do, from presenting our coffees for consideration to how quickly we respond to email. We often get people that say, “Wow, you returned our phone call!” I’m thinking, “For sure, you reached out to us and wanted to buy our coffee.” From a sales standpoint that’s like a unicorn, that doesn’t happen all the time so, when you have that opportunity you have to catch it.

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"The professionalism aspect should be in everything that we do, from presenting our coffees for consideration to how quickly we respond to email."


on your daily coffee routine…

I love cold brew, especially with it being so hot in Miami. My morning ritual is as follows: I’ve got my batch of cold brew that’s already made in the refrigerator. I do 70% / 30% coffee to water dilution. I use our Cold Brew Blend which is a blend of Guatemalan and Brazilian coffees. Part of my routine is that both my two year old and four year old come over and ask for “Cafe de Per’La” so they both get their little sips. I don’t give my kids too much coffee, just little sips. I usually have an espresso or two here, or a pour over, and if we cup, I’ll cup. I have a pretty hard cut off at 3pm or else I’ll be staring at the ceiling all night.



On what you do outside of coffee…

I love spending time with the family, traveling. I enjoy working out, and definitely watching any type of live sports, specifically UM Football.

 

on how you and Paul selected the name per’la…

We wanted to pick a name that was a familiar sense of luxury. We wanted a name that was not geographically specific, and lastly, we wanted a name that was translatable amongst different languages. In both Italian and Spanish, it means Pearl. We also wanted something short; the apostrophe is something that we added to make it a little more unique, more than just one word. We carry that throughout our whole brand, like the pearlescence in the bag. Any time we can integrate that when telling the brand story, that’s cool.

 on your day-to-day at Per'la…

It’s just the two of us, but that’s great. We’re both doing whatever needs to be done. We have this trust element from knowing each other for 16 years. I know that Paul’s going to do the right thing and he knows that I’m going to do the right thing. We’re always on time, making sure that everything that needs to get done is getting done. You know, the great part about this job is that every day is different, so we don’t have set schedules we don’t have set hours. That’s the plunge of entrepreneurship - there’s nobody there telling you this is what you need to do and this is what time you need to be there. Day to day, whether it’s billing, whether it’s printing labels, whether it’s cold calling and making sales calls, we really pride ourselves in being present and accessible to existing and new customers. It’s a good dynamic because with our partnership, if someone doesn’t like my personality or we don’t connect as well maybe that’s someone that Paul works with better, and vice versa. We both have our customers that we connect with.


on partnership …

A partnership is a very delicate relationship, so I think that any time you have the ability to find a partner that complements what you’re good at, that's a win. If you put two A Types together the odds of it working out are lower. What we have is very rare. We have complementary personalities, Paul is more Type B, I’m more Type A. That’s how we deviate ourselves. I’m sales, marketing and branding, while Paul is coffee and logistics.
And then we see ourselves as partners with our customers. We see ourselves as partners with people who place a high emphasis on their guest experience, whether that be in the menu items they prepare, or the hotels that serve our product and go above and beyond to have great rooms and great experiences. They can kind of drive home that experience with the coffee. We want them to reconsider and understand that this is something they’re already doing, and serving our coffee is just a different tool that they can use to enhance the guest experience.

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