UMD Profile: Greg Benson
Greg Benson studied literature and environmental geography at UMD, and began an entrepreneurial journey that has since culminated into international sales and recognition.
“It started with skateboard parks in 1997 with a company we named TrueRide where we built more than 450 municipal skate parks throughout the United States and then sold the business in 2007. It has been an amazing journey that has evolved in ways we never could have predicted.”
Since TrueRide, several companies have risen, grown, and exceeded expectations through the talented efforts of Benson, his brother Dave, and business partner Tony Ciardelli. On a grassy hill with the spine of a railroad running parallel with four acres in West Duluth, the headquarters of Loll Designs and Epicurean Cutting Surfaces rests easily in its natural setting. Designer David Salmela united glass and wood, creating a breathtaking space where Benson, business partners, and employees design and market the products that are a logo onto themselves.
“We’re known for our Adirondack chair and a simple cutting board,” said Benson, gesturing toward the furniture displayed throughout the building, “but we are reaching into a variety of markets that include shutters for restaurants on the Loll side, and food displays for Starbucks with Epicurean. Loll furniture and products are made from recycled milk jugs or number 2 plastic. The cutting boards through Epicurean are made from paper. It has all the positive qualities of plastic and wood, without the negatives. The material has been in place for years in restaurants, but we geared it toward the retail consumer and really filled a need. We realized the potential for the home cook, and from there it took off.”
The recycled and sustainable materials from which the furniture and cutting boards are made all hail from the USA. The sheets are shipped to the Epicurean and Loll Designs manufacturing sites where computer software and heavy machines cut the sheets and create the pieces necessary to build the simple, attractive, and streamline cutting boards and furniture.
“We embraced technology, made it as much a part of our company from the design aspect, to creation, to packaging,” Benson said while walking around the manufacturing site. Numerous machines whirred and jostled, cutting perfectly into material while an employee operated one of four CNC machines. All cut and unused materials are processed further with very little actual waste generated from either company.
“It’s all about being efficient with each project. That’s why we design multiple pieces into one sheet,” said Benson. “The left side might be for a chair, the middle for a table, and a small corner for a birdhouse. We use as much of the sheet as we can.”
The environmental consciousness on constant display within the factory is also apparent at the headquarters and administration building. Originally considered a brownfield by the EPA, Benson and his partners bought it, cleared it, and built upon the original building.
“It was a daunting task. There were tar-encased barrels, some asbestos, petroleum contaminated soil, and tons of concrete debris,” Benson said shaking his head. “The land around the building was a mess. Looking at it now, you wouldn’t even know it. It’s about caring for the environment and leaving a healthy legacy.”
Written by Christiana Kapsner, August 2012
Photography by Brett Groehler