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Kevin McLaughlin logged hundreds of miles for research and spent nearly a year restoring the first floor of a historic bank building before opening Larema Coffee House last September in downtown Rocky Mount.
McLaughlin, 33, first considered opening his own coffee shop as a college sophomore frequenting nearby cafes. But he didn’t pursue that dream until years after earning his master’s degree in public relations from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and launching a career in community development.
His journey to becoming an entrepreneur included visiting coffee bean farms in seven countries. In one, he found the perfect name for his shop.
“To me, the coffee house is a space for coming together and truly seeing and hearing our fellow human beings,” McLaughlin said. “It is for this reason I chose the name Larema, a word I learned in northern Uganda, which means ‘my friend.’ ”
It was a friend who told McLaughlin about some vacant yet beautiful building spaces in downtown Rocky Mount. They included the former First National Bank building.
The building fit his vision of creating a welcoming gathering place in a city working to revitalize its downtown. But achieving his goal would require nearly a year of renovation work on the 110-year-old building, the support of local officials, and help navigating the legal and licensing requirements for opening a business in North Carolina.
McLaughlin turned to the EDPNC’s small-business consultants for help. In April 2019, he called the toll-free line of EDPNC’s Business Link North Carolina team, which answers entrepreneurs’ questions about local, state and federal permits and refers them to the right agencies.
— Kevin McLaughlin
The guidance included how to obtain a state permit to serve beer and wine in the evenings. That was key to McLaughlin’s plan for a coffee shop that would also be a space for after-work relaxation and events.
Larema is now busy offering high-quality coffees, locally sourced food, and evening beer and wine. The community-driven coffee house also hosts events ranging from coffee tastings and gatherings to live music.