Dan Cox: Helping the women who harvest the beans

Courtesy photo
Dan Cox of Shelburne not only founded Coffee Enterprises, but also Grounds for Health, a nonprofit aimed at helping women in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua , Kenya and Ethiopia get screened for cervical cancer.

PHYL NEWBECK

Dan Cox, founder and president of Coffee Enterprises, wasn’t always a coffee connoisseur. His appreciation for the beverage only started when he began working for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. These days, his Hinesburg-based business analyzes coffee, acts as a management consultant and serves as an expert in coffee litigation cases. In 2012, Cox received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

Cox was a racquetball player at Norwich University and was inducted into their Athletic Hall of Fame. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, he was promoted to captain and spent six years in the Army Reserves. He played semi-pro racquetball and worked in the admissions and counseling departments at Norwich before being offered a job by his doubles partner, Doug Balme, who had just started what would become Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Cox began work in the spring of 1981 and found his niche in sales. The company went through several management changes and Cox rose to become vice president/partner. After 11 years, he had a philosophical disagreement with then-owner Bob Stiller and left the business.

Cox landed a job in New Hampshire, but he disliked the commute and wanted to start his own coffee business.

“I hated retail, didn’t have the money for wholesale and didn’t want to be a consultant,” he said “so I started an extract company.”

Cox founded Coffee Enterprises in a 500-square-foot space on College Street in 1992 with one employee. He subsequently moved to another College Street address and then the old Blodgett headquarters before finding his current location in the NRG building in Hinesburg. A resident of Shelburne, Cox has only a six-mile commute.

“I drive the speed limit which I’ve never done in my life,” he said.

Although Coffee Enterprises started as an extract company, they began to do more quality control and eventually moved to coffee analysis. Cox is only the second American to pass the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Q Grader exam and one of only 253 in the U.S. He has assisted with 52 court cases on coffee burns and has just written his second book on that subject.

When Cox was a boy, he did errands for a neighborhood doctor named Francis Fote. Fote retired to Arizona but was bored and decided to join Cox on a coffee-buying trip to Mexico where he discovered the local women had four times the rate of cervical cancer as women in the U.S. because there was virtually no screening. Fote suggested the two should team up to change that. Cox was charged with mobilizing the coffee community and Fote agreed to find a medical team. That first year, Cox used a bullhorn to convince women to get tested and they were brought to the medical facility in coffee trucks.

Four years later, Cox hired an executive director who turned Grounds for Health into a non-profit with a board of trustees. The organization has expanded from Mexico to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Kenya and Ethiopia (all coffee growing countries) and has switched from pap smears to the latest medical technology. To date, 107,432 women have been screened, 8,718 have been treated, and 549 local clinicians have been trained to perform the screening.

At 69, Cox considers himself lucky to have his health and his family.

“I don’t believe in legacies,” he said, “but Grounds for Health goes into the category of things that come your way and take on another life. It’s nice waking up and knowing you’ve made a difference.”

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