Henry Norman Saurage III, who guided Community Coffee into a major brand and a highly successful, fifth-generation family company, died Saturday at 77.
Saurage was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in January 2014, his son Matthew Saurage said.
“My father was the steward of our brand,” he said. “He was a defender of the quality and the image of the company at every level, and not only what it meant to our family but to our customers.”
Norman Saurage spent nearly six decades in the company his grandfather started in 1919. He started by driving trucks with coffee as a teenager in the 1950s.
In that era, the family ran the business out of their home — but the company was growing quickly.
Over the next several decades, after eventually becoming president and then remained a chairman until 2012, Saurage saw ways to expand Community Coffee by defining it as a brand that stood for quality, even as the market was flooded with other, heavily advertised brands by much larger corporations.
Community Coffee has since expanded operations to about 20 states, and has become the largest family-owned retail coffee brand, Matthew Saurage said. The family also founded CC’s Coffee House, which now has about 30 locations.
Under Saurage’s leadership, the company also funneled more than $4 million to hundreds of schools across nine states as part of a Cash for Schools program.
But through all the expansion, Community Coffee retained its family roots. Matthew Saurage has been the company’s chairman since 2012, and his brother “Hank” Saurage IV and his mother, Donna Saurage, are directors on the board as well.
“As you can imagine, we all grew up with coffee in our (baby) bottles,” Hank Saurage said laughing.
Norman Saurage grew up in Baton Rouge and went to University High School. He met his wife, Donna, when Norman was a football player there and Donna was a cheerleader at Baton Rouge High, Matthew Saurage said.
The two ultimately had five children, who were all involved in the business at least somewhat while growing up. Hank Saurage recalled pulling weeds as early as 8 years old. He and his four siblings also had various jobs loading trucks, washing cars and stocking warehouse shelves.
Their father’s ethos was that “everything we do has to be as good as our coffee” — and he instilled hard work and independence in his kids from an early age, Matthew Saurage said.
His favorite kind of coffee was a classic cup of dark-roast through a drip pot or a French press — and he also enjoyed a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.
“Dad just wanted a good cup of coffee,” Matthew Saurage said.
Follow Daniel Bethencourt on Twitter, @_dbethencourt.