Josh Dexter, owner of five Dunn Bros coffee shops in Minnesota and Wisconsin, gets consumed by the seven-day-a-week demands of inventory management, staffing and serving customers.

At the end of the day, it’s about the coffee.

And Dexter and a dozen or so other Dunn Bros franchise owners were reminded of that in January when they visited Mexican farmers in the state of Veracruz from whom they buy beans.

“It regenerated my passion for the business,” Dexter said. “To meet the small farmers who grow the coffee that we roast and sell and shake their hands … is important.

“It’s moving to walk with them, see the trees and listen and learn from each other. We see how important we are to each other’s lives.”

And this trip was even more special for Dexter, who brought along son Tyler, 20, and daughter Zoey, 18, who run the store he owns in Eau Claire, Wis.

Dunn Bros co-founder Chris Eilers, who with his business partner in 1987 left the fast-food trade to become the first Dunn Bros franchisee, said each shop owner is required to invest $2,000 as part of buying the franchise toward at least one trip to meet some of the small-plot growers who supply Dunn Bros from Mexico and Central America.

“It’s our version of buying local, or as local as we can be,” Eilers said. “We can’t buy from a farmer in Menomonee or the farmers market. Mexico is as local as our coffee can be.”

During the one-week trip, Dunn Bros owners, spouses, employees and others toured farms and a decaffeination plant, staying in small local hotels. They learned about how coffee beans can vary depending on elevation or the side of a mountain on which they’re grown.

Minneapolis-based Dunn Bros generally avoids middlemen, preferring to buy directly from farmers and cooperatives.

The visits can be eye-opening. A few years ago, Dunn Bros quit doing business in the Dominican Republic because Eilers and store owners didn’t like the subservient way growers treated workers from Haiti.

Ely again captures state tourism award for knee-slapping April Fools’ Day ads

For the fifth year in a row, the Ely, Minn., Chamber of Commerce has been recognized by Explore Minnesota Tourism for the northern-border town’s contribution to state travel.

The April Fools’ Day ads have become a favorite among tourism types and don’t hurt when it comes to attracting travelers, according to Cherie Sonsalla, executive director of the Ely Chamber.

The award-winning 2014 campaign, recognized at last month’s Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference in St. Paul, featured the fictitious “Ely Channel.”

The 24-hour cable TV channel runs scintillating features such as “Iron Range Chef,” “Sauna Wars,” “DNR Cold Case Files” and “Housewives of St. Louis County.”

The campaign was created a by a Minneapolis marketing agency whose name seems fitting: OWL.

Tourism is a $13 billion industry for Minnesota. And you can get your fill at

Former St. Thomas dean Puto heading back home

Chris Puto, who retired last year as dean of the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas, is going home to the South.

But not to the rocking chair.

Puto, 72, who stayed on to teach marketing at St. Thomas, will become president of Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. Puto, who graduated from the Jesuit college in 1964, will be the first non-priest to serve as its president. The college has about 1,450 students.

Puto endeared himself to the Twin Cities business community for the 12 years that he ran the Opus School and raised millions for its expansion. Spring Hill’s total enrollment is smaller than the UST business school.

“I am looking forward to this opportunity to give back to the institution that gave me the foundation for my career,” Puto said in an e-mail. “In a sense, I have been preparing for this all my life, and now I get to do it.”

Puto has had an interesting run: a tour as an Army officer in Vietnam; a decade-long corporate career, including a marketing role behind Burger King’s famous “Have It Your Way” campaign 40 years ago; a couple of years as an Austrian ski bum.

Puto ran the business school at Georgetown University before he was hired at St. Thomas.

Solve tackles ads for Lactalis Group

The Minneapolis ad agency Solve, whose clients range from Porsche to Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, has been named to promote the cheese products of French dairy giant Lactalis Group, whose brands include Rondelé and Black Diamond. Specifically, Solve will promote the French Brie brand President and the Italian cheese Galvani for the North American division of Lactalis. Solve is partnering with the Minneapolis shop MarketingLab for the assignment, which includes traditional, social and digital media as well as in-store channels.

David Phelps