MORRISVILLE — At the back of an office park, bags and bags of lime green-colored beans sit at the ready. The aroma of coffee permeates the space.
The smell and the space belong to Muddy Dog Roasting Co., a 5-year-old coffee company that recently hit No. 12 on CNN/Money and Fortune magazine's list of the best small U.S. coffee roasters.
Muddy Dog co-owner Jim Pelligrini is the man behind the beans. He travels from Ethiopia to Nicaragua, India to Hawaii to find the best and most unique coffee beans.
His knowledge of beans is so refined he can usually guess what type of coffee a customer will like based on their favorite wine. "Every place I go to I have a better understanding of it, and I can educate customers more and they appreciate the coffee more," he said. "Customers are interested. They want to hear about where it came from, who it came from, how it was handled, what its pedigree is, how it's benefitting the people who grow it."
The idea for the business actually started about 10 years ago, when Pelligrini, his wife and their daughters moved to Cary.
"I couldn't get a decent cup of coffee," he said. "To be fair I probably didn't try very hard.
"I read somewhere on the Internet that you could roast your own. So I thought 'Hmm, let me try that.'."
His hobby soon took over the family's garage.
"I knew it was serious the first time he roasted in the garage," said his wife and business partner, Debbie Pelligrini. "It was interesting. We had the garage door open, we had lots of neighbors walking by wondering what we were doing. It was a little embarrassing at first."
By then, Jim Pelligrini had moved to a professional grade roaster. He was also buying beans online - lots of beans. At one point he had about 2,000 pounds of coffee in his garage.
"The only reason it even occurred to me to bring anybody else into my little delusion was because I had so much coffee," he said. "In order to buy more I need to get rid of some."
Jim Pelligrini started giving the beans away to friends and family, who encouraged the couple to start their own business. The real impetus came when the couple's children started middle school and converted to a year-round calendar. Debbie Pelligrini decided to give up her job as a teacher and run the day-to-day operations. Her husband kept his full-time job doing business development and marketing for a medical products company. In December 2006, Muddy Dog was born.
The company's name can be traced to, what else, a cup of coffee. That, and the family's yellow Lab, Bailey.
"I was in California and I ordered a café latte, which I never do, and they slid it across the table and I looked at it and said that kind of looks like my muddy dog," Jim Pelligrini said. Muddy Dog has found its niche in Internet sales and individual retail sales, he said. The company roasts and sells about 20,000 pounds of coffee beans a year, including some custom blends, private labels and decaffeinated coffees.
The couple said their young business is faring well because of several factors: fresh coffee beans, customer service and a food artisan movement.
Avid coffee drinker Michael Mendelsohn of Cary was first introduced to Muddy Dog at the Western Wake Farmer's Market about three years ago. He comes by every few months to restock his supply. "It's hard to find good decaf beans," Mendelsohn said. "When I need them I can get them and I don't have to pay the (online) shipping fee."
The other attraction for Mendelsohn is the freshness of the beans.
"By the time ( the grocery store) puts the beans out the shelves, they've been sitting in the back room for who knows how long," he said.
Customer Michael Musolf said he has Jim Pelligrini to thank for his education on coffee.
"I've turned into a coffee snob," Musolf said. "People like wine connoisseurs can talk about the subtleties of wine. These guys can do it with coffee. As a dark coffee drinker, I've learned that the coffee itself matters."