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.
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