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Meet Craig Min of Lamill Coffee in San Gabriel Valley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Craig Min.

Craig Min was hooked on coffee at age 12. It would be eight years before he had his first beer. Even that wouldn’t measure up to the brown elixir he discovered as a teen. Today, the only expensive imports he drinks are from Guatemala and Sumatra. Min’s father started the family coffee business in 1991. A wholesale company, it’s primary clients were catering companies and restaurants. Min showed a keen interest in the business, and at age 14 was already helping to run the small company. While the rest of his friends were learning to drive, Min was in the stockroom organizing inventory and sitting in on meetings with vendors, learning everything he could about the business of coffee.

To this day, he can’t drive a stick shift. Min took the reigns to the company in 1998 and rechristened it LAMILL Coffee. Sensing an opportunity, he began to approach smaller, high-end restaurateurs. That decision proved to be fruitful; LAMILL now boasts a client list that includes such notables as Corey Lee’s Benu, the Michael Mina Group, and Michael Cimarusti’s award-winning Providence. Not content with his success in coffee, Min opened a new company in the summer of 1999. Sungarden Tea has quickly garnered success as one of the largest specialty tea importers on the west coast. Min credits the success of his companies to a simple formula of hard work, great employees and an unswerving commitment to just doing things better. “Ad agencies have ruined the word ‘quality’, not to mention a lot of my favorite songs,” says Min. “Quality still means something to us–that’s why we work so hard to get the details right. It’s what distinguishes us as a company.” That attention to detail has netted Min, a host of industry awards, including a Best of Los Angeles award for Best Coffee as well as a Food and Wine Tastemaker Award, which recently recognized Min as one the top young talents who’ve changed the world of food and wine.

Innovation is another trait that distinguishes LAMILL. Recognizing that each of his clients faced unique challenges, Min developed a comprehensive five-point program that could be customized to attend to the specific needs and budgets of any user. When it comes to coffee, beans are of course, paramount. But great beans explains Min, “doesn’t necessarily equal great coffee. You need the right equipment, properly trained staff, and constant monitoring to ensure consistently excellent coffee.” The response to LAMILL’s Coffee Care program has been extremely positive. Min believes his program and the level of service it provides to be unique to the industry. Min’s latest innovation brings LAMILL into new territory. In January 2008, Min opened LAMILL Coffee Boutique in fashionable Silver Lake. This was LAMILL Coffee’s first retail store, and like everything else they do, the new shop is everything but ordinary. For starters, they won’t be serving up ordinary beans. Min traveled extensively in preparation for the opening, in search of what he calls, “super high-end single origins prepared at the highest levels.” Min’s mission is to awaken his customers to a new world of possibilities for coffee and tea and he’s designed the new LAMILL Coffee Boutique to do just that.

To Min, innovation is more than just adding a flavor shot to an espresso drink. His aim is to completely reinvent the coffee experience. “I’ve learned so many unique ways to prepare and serve and I plan to incorporate all of it. Our customers are going to take away a completely new vocabulary for coffee.” By using the absolute best ingredients and bringing in top artisans to prepare it, LAMILL Coffee Boutique hopes to transform coffee from routine beverage into luxurious indulgence. “We will prepare every component that will be used in our beverages as a fine kitchen would. Cook, infuse, extract. No ingredient will be purchased in the final form.” But it will be an affordable indulgence, according to Min. “Our shop will be exclusive, but not exclusionary. Even the most cost-conscious person will find they can still enjoy a coffee here.” When he isn’t busy expanding his company, Min spends time with his family. On the rare occasions when he has time to himself, Min enjoys a frustrating day on the golf course, downhill mountain biking, parachuting out of a plane or anything else that gets his heart racing. But coffee will always be Min’s primary obsession.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Definitely not smooth. When Lamill was founded back in 1997, specialty coffee was still a micro-segment in the beverage world. No one knew there was better coffee out there except for a limited number of culinary enthusiasts. Sharing the experience of great coffee has always been a challenge. It’s much easier today than it was back then when consumers were used to buying coffee for 5/lb while our coffee sold for 12/lb.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Lamill Coffee – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
We travel the world and foster relationships with farmers and growing cooperatives. We develop a green coffee with them one year prior to our needs. The green coffee arrives after harvesting and processing in Los Angeles at our workshop. We then roast and ship directly to our wholesale and retail clients all across the country.

What really excites us is the discovery process, the exchange that takes place when you believe in something, then the ability to share these special experiences with our guests. We don’t see ourselves as a coffee company, but rather a group that curates special, memorable culinary moments in life.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
We are now focused on improving and expanding our retail experience. Our original Silverlake store will be launching a new food menu at the beginning of June. We also have a new location opening in Anaheim this coming fall.

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Image Credit:

Mario Haegendoreens

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