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Alyza Bohbot never intended to take over Alakef Coffee Roasters, her family’s wholesale coffee roasting business. She was living on the East Coast and had just finished a master’s degree in school counseling when her parents, Nessim and Deborah, told Alyza, their only child, of their retirement plans.
Alyza says she had a “gut check moment.” She realized she didn’t want to see the business her parents worked so hard to build leave the family. She agreed to move back to Minnesota for a six-month trial period to determine if it was a good fit. Three years later, with her parents’ guidance and the help of veteran Alakef staff, Alyza is running the company and taking it in an interesting new direction.
Under Alyza’s leadership, Alakef recently launched a new brand, City Girl Coffee, which sources coffee from women-owned or women-run coffee farms and gives a portion of sales from each bag sold to organizations that empower women who produce coffee.
Part of the impetus for City Girl Coffee came from a story Alyza heard at an International Womens Coffee Alliance conference in Colombia about a women being unable to secure a bank loan. The woman and her husband owned a small coffee farm in the war-torn country. Her husband was tragically killed and she needed equipment to keep the business going to support her children. But when she applied for a loan, the bank refused it due to her gender.
This story resonated with Alyza. “I thought, ‘there has to be something more we can be doing as an industry,’” she says. “Women are such an integral part of the industry and the workforce, yet they don’t have decision-making power or access to resources.”
City Girl Coffee offers Alyza a method to raise awareness about this issue and empower these women. Now she sits on the IWCA board and her company works with charities like the Café Femenino Foundation, a nonprofit with a mission to “enhance the lives of women and families in the coffee-producing communities throughout the world.”
Alyza says she sees the new brand as an important way for Alakef to continue to push the envelope and be an industry leader. When her parents founded the company 26 years ago, it was the first specialty roaster in town. The company was named “Alakef,” after an Israeli slang term meaning “hits the spot” or “the best.” It’s now well established in the community. Anyone who has dined at a Duluth-area restaurant has probably consumed Alakef coffee. It’s ubiquitous at a wide range of popular eateries, from Amazing Grace Bakery & Café to the Duluth Grill. Alakef is also available at local grocery stores and is sold wholesale throughout the Midwest.
But as more quality coffee roasters move into the market, Alakef faces a challenge. When the company was founded in 1990, it was tough to find a good cup of specialty coffee in the area. Today, with many smaller, artisan roasters entering the fold, that’s no longer the case. City Girl Coffee provides an opportunity for Alakef to reinvigorate and reinvent itself, particularly for the Twin Cities market, says Alyza.
The brand officially launched in November in the Twin Cities and is gaining momentum. It’s available at a number of grocery stores, such as Kowalski’s. Alyza and the company’s marketing staff is based in the metro, but the coffee is roasted at Alakef’s facility in Duluth at 1330 E. Superior St. She anticipates City Girl Coffee will be available at Alakef’s retail store in the Kenwood Super One this summer. In the meantime, local customers can order City Girl Coffee online or call Alakef directly to purchase the coffee and arrange pick up at the Superior Street location.
Female Founders of COCO – Alyza Bohbot
Name: Alyza Bohbot
Company: Alakef Coffee Roasters and City Girl Coffee
Location: Roasting located in Duluth, MN. Product available throughout the midwest.
When did you found your business? What inspired you to start?
My parents started the business in 1990, and I took sole ownership in January of 2015. It was important for me to see our family business stay in our family.
What were some of the challenges you faced when starting your business?
As this was an already existing family business, one of the main struggles I had was taking an existing business and putting my own mark on it. That is where the idea for City Girl Coffee came from. While I felt an obviously deep connection to the family business, I wanted to do something that was truly a reflexion of myself. I began to get involved with women’s organizations in my industry, and came up with the idea to focus on sourcing coffee from women owned farms, and then working with these organizations to give back to these women at their country of origin. This is a mission I feel really passionate about.
How has the COCO community enabled your venture?
COCO is great for me. Since my roasting facility is based in Duluth, but my sales and marketing team is based down here, we do not really have need for a full time office space in the metro yet. COCO allows us the freedom to meet as a team at our convenience. It is also great to get out of the house every once in awhile! Being an entrepreneur and business owner can sometimes feel a bit isolated, COCO is a great community to meet new people and reach out to feel connected.
Who is one woman, dead or alive, who inspires you and why?
There are so many, but one women I have always admired is Amelia Earhart because she wasn’t afraid to take risks and fail.
When you’re not running your business out of COCO, what are you passionate about?
I am deeply passionate about my friends and family, but also music. I play piano, sing, and song write. It is a great stress reliever for me and really allows me to get my creative juices flowing!
Alakef has been a premium coffee roaster in Duluth for 25 years. They have been committed to making great coffee while staying sustainable. But the new single serve coffee fad threatened the sustainability efforts of the company.
Alyza Bohbot, the Owner of Alakef told me, "We sort of stayed out of it for a number of years essentially because it's sort of against everything we stood for as a company, so at the core of who we are. You know are principals are obviously providing the highest quality product we can to our consumers, but also providing that in a sustainable way as possible."
So Alakef had to adapt to serve the needs of their customers.
But they made sure they did it with sustainability in mind.
"So all of our single serves are still roasted and made to order and everything is 100% recyclable, the cup it comes in to the cardboard box that it's being packaged in." says Bohbot.
They've considered everything even to how the product is shipped. They actually use biodegradable peanuts in all of their packaging. There is also a byproduct from roasting the beans.
Bohbot explains, "Coffee actually has a sort of skin on it and that skin is pulled off during the roasting process and its collected in these machines back here and it's called, what we call chaff."
Instead of tossing this away like trash, they offer it to farmers who add it to compost to make it a resource. Alakef employee Ezra Bennett is also working to make changes to their recycling program.
"Started trying to talk to our waste distributed, our waste collector up the hill to try to develop a pilot program." said Bennett.
The pilot program would hopefully make it easier for other small businesses to recycle smaller amounts of plastic.
"Our hope is that by really focusing on sustainability it will encourage other small businesses to focus on sustainability as well." Bohbot says.
Alyza Bohbot recently took over the Alakef company. Her parents started it 25 years ago.
Years before Peace Coffee and Dogwood Coffee began roasting beans in the Twin Cities, Alakef Coffee was bringing fine coffee to Duluth. The company got its start when Nessim and Deborah Bohbot (from Morocco and Florida, respectively), who met and married in Israel, found themselves, somewhat improbably, on the North Shore when Deborah’s work brought her to the Duluth Public Schools. Nessim liked robust coffee, which he found to be lacking in Duluth, and he began roasting his own beans in his kitchen. The original plan was to stay just one year — the Duluth climate not necessarily being attractive to people with warm climates in their background — but then they had a daughter, Alyza, and launched Alakef. Their friends thought it was a crazy idea, building a coffee business in Duluth, but 25 years later they’re still going strong.
And just as the parents might have had some misgivings about staying in Duluth, Alyza made other plans, too. After college, she headed east to work for Samuel Adams and fended off questions from her parents about taking over the business so they could retire. “I’d tell them, ‘It’s not my thing. I’m on the East Coast. I’m not coming back,'” Alyza said. “But the last time we had that conversation, I felt something in my gut. I didn’t want the business to leave the family.” So she and her husband agreed to give it a try for six months.
As it did for her parents, Alakef drew her in, and in January 2015, Alyza took ownership of the business. But she wasn’t content to coast on the success of her parents. “I wanted to do something no one else is doing and genuinely make a difference,” she said. “Do something people could connect to, something I could get behind.” She came in contact with the Cafe Femenino Foundation and the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, groups that work to support women coffee growers and their families. From there, Alyza found her mission: to create City Girl Coffee Co. with a line of coffees sourced from women-owned or women-managed farms. “Many of these women are in charge, but they’re not equal at all,” Alyza said. “They can’t get loans; they have little authority or education. I wanted to bring awareness and equality to the coffee industry.” She works with importers who were already aware of women-owned or -managed farms and could provide her with not only the type of producer she was looking for, but information on each producer’s situation. She hopes to eventually meet some of these women herself. “I want to get out there and meet these women,” she said. In the meantime, a portion of every sale of City Girl coffees goes to organizations that support them.
While Alakef is based in Duluth, City Girl’s coffees are becoming available in the greater Twin Cities area, including at food co-ops like Lakewinds and Valley Natural Foods. They are also available for purchase online via the Alakef and City Girl websites.
We had a chance to try two of the City Girl blends and found them equally enjoyable. Breakfast Blend was right on point for its stated purpose — it was mellow and calming, with a bit of roasty, nutty character. We enjoyed the contrasting depth of Organic Guatemala Cafe Femenino. It sported a brightness that was complemented by a touch of husky roasted caramel.
James Norton contributed to this story.
Celebrate the launch of City Girl Coffee, a sustainable and socially conscious coffee company dedicated to supporting and empowering women in the coffee industry around the world. Ticket price includes hors d'oeuvres, beer, wine and signature cocktails. Proceeds from the event will support Bright Pink, a non-profit organization focused on prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women.
By Grace Kramer
Alyza Bohbot’s family owned and operated Alakef Coffee Roasters for 25 years. When her parents retired last January, Bohbot took over and decided it was time to put a new spin on the roasting company.
In her attempt to revamp the quarter-century-old family business, Bohbot created City Girl Coffee.
“The coffee industry in the Twin Cities market is drastically different than it was 25 years ago,” Bohbot said. “We needed to do something different; we needed to reinvent ourselves.” The company focuses on sourcing its coffee from women producers and women-owned farms that receive a portion of profits.
“Having a background in counseling, helping people and doing good is something very near and dear to my heart,” Bohbot said. “I felt this product gave us an opportunity to focus on an area that wasn’t being focused on in the Twin Cities market.”
The company launches in the Twin Cities on Thursday, where it will team up with Bright Pink, a breast cancer awareness organization.
With the launch, City Girl Coffee hopes to introduce the coffee to the Twin Cities area and tell its backstory.
“It is a higher price point, but it’s really important for me and my sales team to communicate our message to consumers,” Bohbot said. “When you hear the story and understand what we’re trying to do, it’s a product people can really get behind.”
Some co-ops in the Twin Cities area, such as Lakewinds Food Co-op, already sell City Girl Coffee. With companies like City Girl Coffee, Lakewinds makes sure the product meets their standards before it is sold in stores.
“A big piece is getting the ingredients and doing a lot of behind-the-scenes research on what they’re using to make sure it’s the highest quality products that we can get,” Lakewinds’ senior purchasing manager, Shawna Anderson, said
Lakewinds considers the sociopolitical leanings of companies they carry. “Sometimes if we’re looking at two similar products, if one goes beyond just processing the product and they do community work or it’s fair trade or they’re doing something beyond that, it definitely plays a huge role in our decision process,” Anderson said.
When starting City Girl Coffee, Bohbot reached out to coffee importers she already knew through family connections. “It is important to us to have really high quality as well as traceability and accountability of where it’s coming from, so I really pushed back on my importers initially,” Bohbot said.
Bohbot explained her brand and her vision to her importers, then asked for samples and information from women-owned and women-operated coffee farms. “There’s still an inequality issue in these countries of origin,” Bohbot said. “It is hard to source women-owned coffee that you know is actually coming from women on the farm [and] that also have decision making power.”
From there, groups such as the International Women’s Coffee Alliance and Cafe Femenino helped to make sure a cut of her profits were sent to women in the coffee industry.
The next step for Bohbot is to make connections with the women responsible for the coffee.
“My hope is that as I continue to become more involved in this organization it will give me the opportunity to meet these women and go to their farms and build a relationship for myself,” Bohbot said.
For now, the company just wants to get across its main idea.
“We’re not just a company with cute colors and a chic look,” Bohbot said. “We’re a responsible and sustainable company trying to bring awareness to gender equality of the women of the coffee world.”
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – City Girl Coffee is opening a new location in the Twin Cities.
The brand is part of Alakef Coffee Roasters. Located in Duluth, Alakef opened in 1990 and has been buying beans and roasting coffee since.
As a brand, City Girl Coffee is committed to supporting gender equality and empowering women in the coffee industry.
The company is hosting a launch party at the Muse Event Center to raise awareness and support for their cause.
The party will take place from 6 to 10 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12. Tickets cost $45 – $100 and all proceeds will benefit Bright Pink Breast for Ovarian Health.
At 25 years old, Duluth, Minn.-based Alakef Coffee Roasters has not been resting on its laurels in 2015. In fact, the year has seen major changes for the company, including a new owner in Alyza Bohbot, who took over the family business in January after coming over from the beer industry with Samuel Adams maker the Boston Beer Company.
Now Bohbot is overseeing the opening of Alakef’s first branded retail outpost, a small kiosk inside the Super One Foods location at the Kenwood Shopping Center. While that move is sure to raise the profile of the Alakef brand locally after roasting for wholesale, grocery and direct online sales since 1990, the Alakef team is in the process of launching a sister brand, City Girl Coffee.
Already a member of the International Womens Coffee Alliance, which works on numerous fronts to support and empower women throughout the coffee supply chain, and a supporter of the nonprofit Café Femenino Foundation, which provides grants to female producers, City Girl Coffee aims to source coffees from women producers whenever possible, while giving back a portion of the proceeds of its sales to organizations that support women locally, domestically and at origin.
“As a successful woman business owner in a predominately male-driven industry, I am in an incredible position to do something to make a difference, and with City Girl Coffee, that is what I intend to do,” Bohbot said in an announcement anticipating the City Girl Coffee launch party, taking place Thursday, Nov. 12, at the Muse Center in Minneapolis. Proceeds from the $45-per-ticket event will benefit Chicago-based breast cancer and ovarian cancer detection and awareness group Bright Pink.
Part of the inspiration for the women-forward coffee brand came from Bohbot’s own shock related to statistics from groups like the IWCA and the World Bank related to the quality of life struggles faced by huge numbers of female farmers, particularly in the coffee sector. Said, Bohbot, “On top of the hardships most coffee farmers face, women growers consistently face additional struggles in their fight to maintain a respectable standard of living.”
Who the Folk?! Alyza Bohbot
Alyza Bohbot talks to us about the family coffee business, homecomings and why she celebrates Yom Kippur outside.
You recently took over the reins of Alakef Coffee (Hebrew for “ the best”) in Duluth from your parents. Was it always the plan to join the family business?
It was a conversation that my parents and I had a number of times. I’m an only child and it gets to the point where everyone wants to retire. The business had never really been something that I saw myself moving into, I was always kind of thinking, ‘This is my parents’ thing, not mine.’ But my parents gave me a call after I finished grad school and said they were thinking about moving on. It was just sort of something that, in my gut, I didn’t want to see the business leave our family.
So, you left your life on the East Coast just like that and moved back home to take over the biz?
Originally, I didn’t want to move back to Minnesota after spending 10 years on the East Coast. I was living in Boston, where I got my master’s in counseling. But, I realized not wanting to come back was not a good enough reason to leave the family business behind. I never wanted to look back and wonder what might have been had I not taken the opportunity to take the business and grow it. I made the deal with them that I’d move back to Duluth for a trial period of six months, and if it worked, then I’d move down to Minneapolis and run the business from there. And that’s exactly what happened, and I’ve actually loved living back in Minnesota!
What’s your favorite part about living in Minneapolis?
Lately, I’ve been really into paddle boarding at Lake Calhoun, but spending time on any lake is by far my favorite part about living in Minnesota.
Tell us how a Jewish-owned coffee company with a Hebrew named ended up in Duluth.
My parents met and were married in Israel, and moved to Duluth in the early 80’s, when there wasn’t a specialty coffee movement in the Midwest yet. They were used to drinking strong, European-style coffee but they couldn’t find that, so my mom went out and bought my dad a small bag of green coffee and a kitchen handheld roaster and my dad started roasting coffee in our kitchen. When they started the business, they were roasting in an old school basement in Duluth. My dad roasted by night and sold by day and just grew a business from there.
On your website, it says Alakef coffee is certified Kosher. Why did you decide that was important to your business?
That’s a vision that my folks made before I joined the business, but they did it so they could truly sell their coffee to anybody.
Rumor has it Alakef will be opening a location in the Twin Cities! Can you confirm that?
Not as of yet, but potentially down the road there are conversations of that. Right now, we are opening our first grocery store location in Duluth. If we did anything in the Twin Cities, it’d probably be a few years down the road.
What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?
My favorite Jewish holiday is actually Yom Kippur. I love the idea of making peace with one’s sins or regrets and moving forward into the New Year with a clean slate. When I was younger, rather than attending services on Yom Kippur, my mom and I used to take a hike in the park near my house and apologize to each other for things we had said or done that might have hurt one another. We would spend the rest of the walk talking about how we were going to work to be better to one another and all others throughout the year. I just think this process is so unique to the Jewish tradition, and it is something that is really special to me.
What makes you Folkin’ awesome?
I try not to let the small things get to me. My outlook is that life is too short to take it too seriously, so I’m a big goofball, and when I’m not focused on the business, I just try to have fun and surround myself with good people.
- See more at: http://tcjewfolk.com/folk-alyza-bohbot/#sthash.qRRKyTky.dpuf
What is “good” coffee? Well, taste, of course, is a factor. There is acidity, which describes the “tartness” quality felt in the mouth. There is aroma, which describes what we smell. And finally there is body, which describes the weight or thickness of the particular brew.
Another factor when choosing a “good” coffee is having knowledge of where the beans came from, how they were grown, how they were roasted and how fresh it will be when it gets to us. That’s a lot to think about just to have a cup of coffee, right? Fortunately, a local roastery has done all the thinking for us, and it is smart, sustainable thinking.
Alakef Coffee Roasters, located at 1330 E. Superior St. in Duluth, has been selling high-quality, specialty coffee beans to wholesalers and directly to consumers for almost 25 years, right here in the Northland. In search of the perfect cup of coffee, Nessim and Deborah
Bohbot founded Alakef in 1990. Nessim, who is originally from Morocco, and Deborah met in Israel and then moved to Minnesota. They have been roasting high quality beans ever since. Alakef is a slang term used in Israel which means “the best” or “hits the spot,” so it seemed like the perfect name for their company.
Their daughter, Alyza Bohbot, has recently become the second-generation owner of the family run business. Continuing the tradition of excellence is important to Bohbot and that includes understanding the entire business. “My role is many-faceted. I am learning the business from the ground up and am presently wearing many hats,” Bohbot said.
They reach some of their sustainable objectives by maintaining USDA Organic Certification: coffee that has been certified by a third-party agency as having been grown and processed without the use of pesticides, herbicides or similar chemicals. They buy coffees that meet Fair Trade Certification, providing a minimum price per pound for coffee, regardless of coffee market levels. And through participation in the Rainforest Alliance Program, they integrate biodiversity conservation, community development, workers’ rights and productive agricultural practices to ensure comprehensive sustainable farm management.
Alakef also practices sustainability in their daily operations. Main initiatives include the following:
•Eco-friendly packaging material, starch-based loose fill packing peanuts that are biodegradable in water or a compost setting and made with an industrial grade corn starch grown in the Midwest.
•Environmentally sensitive in-house cleaning products.
•Reusable totes for delivery.
•A roaster that runs on natural gas. Ninety percent of all natural gas consumed in North America is produced in North America.
•Recycling waste paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, tin, aluminum, batteries, bulbs, electronics, jute bags, chaff and pallets.
•Promoting the use of low-or-no carbon dioxide-producing transportation. (Some employees bike or walk to work.)
•Installing an afterburner to reduce emissions before any smoke from the roaster is released into the air.
When asked why choose Alakef over other “big-name brand” coffees, Bohbot said, “Quality, service, flavor, freshness, and trusted experience. We have been supporting the Duluth community since 1990, and in a world full of chains and corporations, it is nice to know that the local business still exists. So support local!”
If you would like to learn more about Alakef, visit their website at www.alakef.com or contact them at 218-724-6849.
Cara Lindberg is the board president of Sustainable Twin Ports, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. She is trained in The Natural Step, a science and systems-based sustainability framework. She can be reached at email@example.com.