Karrie Laughton believes in the power of small changes.
“You may think they’re small, but they can have a big impact,” she said.
Laughton is hoping to do her part to make that big change with the launch of Roc Paper Straws, a paper straw manufacturer, in Rochester.
She opened the business with her mother, Kathryn Laughton, earlier this month in the city’s PLEX neighborhood, which is centered between the parallel roadways of South Plymouth Avenue and Exchange Street.
The business makes a range of standard and custom-designed high quality, eco-friendly paper drinking straws for distribution throughout the United States.
It is one of only a handful of paper straw manufacturers in the U.S. and the only one in New York.
Karrie Laughton came upon the idea because of her other business, Lux Lounge.
She owns the popular South Wedge neighborhood bar and goes through a lot of straws.
Laughton was not comfortable with the environmental impact such usage was creating. She realized that replacing plastic straws with paper straws could help.
The only problem was that Laughton had trouble finding high quality, durable paper straws.
Laughton was not the only bar and restaurant owner encountering the problem and knew there was an opportunity in the hospitality industry.
So, she acted and, along with her mother, launched the new business.
The duo invested nearly a half-million dollars into new equipment and leased and renovated 10,000-square-feet of previously vacant manufacturing space at 920 Exchange St.
The business employs eight people and there are plans to add staff as it grows.
In addition to creating local jobs, the new business has helped reinvigorate a previously vacant building in the city.
Since the business moved in, another tenant has set up shop and the activity there has been positive for the neighborhood, Laughton added.
While Karrie Laughton has been in the hospitality business for the past two decades, she notes that manufacturing is an entirely different animal.
“We’re learning as we go,” she said.
Kathryn Laughton, who is a retired nurse, is learning as well and said she enjoys learning something new and taking on an idea that can have such a positive impact.
The two have put in the research, made the investment and believe they are making a superior paper straw compared to what else is out there.
The Roc Paper Straws product line is biodegradable, marine-safe and compostable. In addition to its standard product line, the business offers custom-branded straws with company logos. Wrappers can even be personalized.
The idea for the venture began about four years ago, but COVID-19 put a hold on their plans.
Laughton said there have been a lot of challenges since then, but the local support has been great. A bigger challenge is getting the word out about the business beyond the region, Laughton noted.
To avoid common complaints about paper straws — they get too soggy and fall apart — the business uses high quality materials, including food-grade glue and dyes and a thicker grade paper that doesn’t disintegrate as quickly.
Jen Brunett, owner and manager of Iron Smoke Distillery, said the business tried several different eco-friendly straws, but none held up.
“Then along comes Roc Paper Straws and we were unanimously impressed, as were our guests,” Brunett said. “We have the color we’ve been searching for, and they are solid with zero squish factor.”
Having the highest quality materials provides a better, more durable product. It also, however, impacts the price, but Laughton said there are ways to offset that nominal increased cost.
Lux, for example, uses straw dispensers so patrons can take a straw only if they want one.
Laughton said the key is to remain focused on one’s mission despite the challenges.
“There’s always a solution,” she said.
Roc Paper Straws operates a storefront at its Rochester location and products can also be purchased online at rocpaperstraws.com.
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