Matthew Herren, 40, is a driven, tight-fisted capitalist. Ten years ago he formed the Goshen Coffee Company in Edwardsville.
Business has doubled in each of the past three years. He will sell 55,000 pounds to 75,000 pounds of coffee this year.
He is also a social activist. His coffee has the designation of "fair trade," meaning he buys directly from growers and has the assurance that these growers pay their pickers a more livable wage. As a result, Herren pays more for fair-trade coffee beans than he would for coffee beans without that designation.
The workers who pick the free-trade beans earn a higher wage and work in healthier conditions.
In addition, Herren's coffee is 100 percent organic. No pesticides. No herbicides.
He is also funny and profane and since a 2003 life-threatening battle with cancer he operates under the credo, "I don't do business that don't make me smile."
It is difficult to quote Herren completely and accurately in a family newspaper. He has a fondness for a certain word.
That's why he summons his girl friend, Amy Zupanci, 35, who recently joined the business and has a degree in advertising. In the future, he says, it will be much better for business if she's the one talking to reporters.
He says his coffee success comes despite his personality.
"I am a pain in the ass to deal with but I have a good product," he says.
He has had customers tell him they're really not interested in the organic aspect of his coffee and ask him to bring something non-organic and cheaper. He has let them know he considers the request repugnant.
"I would never tell anyone to screw off," he says, quickly adding that he uses a stronger word.
In addition, he gets rather upset when he isn't paid, Zupanci says.
In fact, on Nov. 30 he abruptly ended business with a long-time customer.
"If you bounce a check and I have to argue with you to get paid, that's it," he says. "I don't bounce checks."
"It's not a charity," says Zupanci, adding that Herren doesn't hesitate to march into a busy business and cut off the water line to the coffee equipment, which typically he owns, and leave with it.
Herren has lots of ink. His bird tattoos flit about his neck, one near each ear. Near one bird it says "entree" and near the other 'sortie." He got them while in the French Alps. The words mean "entrance" and "exit." As in: In one ear and out the other.
Andy Doty, a barista at the 222 Artisan Bakery in Edwardsville, says most people buy Goshen coffee because it tastes good.
"We also get a decent number of people who are ecologically minded who appreciate the coffee because it is organic and because it is fair trade," he says.
Herren was born in Portland, Ore., lived in San Francisco and dropped out of high school at 16 because he was bored. He lived in South Africa as a teenager. He was interested in efforts to dismantle apartheid. He later hitchhiked across Europe and followed the Grateful Dead.
He lived in northern California and later in Seattle. He opened a small coffee shop in northern California and worked in coffee shops in Seattle.
"Coffee was something I was passionate about," he says.
In Seattle, he says, there was a market for fair-trade coffee that was 100 percent organic. But there already were many companies serving that market.
He chose Edwardsville for Goshen Coffee in part because at the time he was married and his wife was from Edwardsville. They also chose the city because the local market seemed open for what they wanted to do.
The Goshen Coffee Company does not serve coffee. It is not a cafe.
The company sells roasted coffee to retailers. It's located in one of a row of no-frills buildings on First Avenue.
Herren has traveled the world to buy beans. He's been to Mexico, Costa Rica and South Africa. He uses Arabica beans, not the more common Robusto beans, which generally have more caffeine and less flavor.
He says the $10 to $11 cost per 12-ounce package is competitive.
D.J. Fisher, 29, of Edwardsville, has worked for Herren four years. Herren, Zupanci and Fisher are the only employees.
The men fill orders and drive the company truck for deliveries throughout the St. Louis area. The company also mails small orders to individual customers across the nation. The website is www.goshencoffee.com.
In 2003 Herren was stricken with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of deadly cancer that typically strikes children. It is the same cancer that killed his mother when she was 30.
He was treated and recovered. He says his doctors do not use the word "remission" with his form of cancer.
Although he was never warm and fuzzy prior to his bout with cancer, he says, he was even less so after. In pursuit of profit, he says, he became less willing to tolerate concessions he once made as a businessman.
"I had been more willing to put up with people's (expletive) in an effort to get ahead," he says.