NBC Know Your Value

How Alyza Bohbot turned a coffee company into a message of women's empowerment

Female coffee farm workers are often denied training and resources, leaving them unable to climb the chain or run their own business. City Girl Coffee wants to change that.

Alyza Bohbot runs Alakef Coffee Roasters and City Girl Coffee out of Duluth, Minnesota.Fresh Coast Collective

Alyza Bohbot runs Alakef Coffee Roasters and City Girl Coffee out of Duluth, Minnesota.Fresh Coast Collective

By Halley Bondy

Growing up, Alyza Bohbot wanted to be a school guidance counselor. She earned her master’s degree in education and planned to spend her life helping kids.

“I’d always wanted to help people. That was very important to me in anything I did,” said Bohbot in an interview with Know Your Value. And that’s exactly what she’s doing, but not exactly in the way she had initially imagined.

Bohbot runs Alakef Coffee Roasters and City Girl Coffee out of Duluth, Minnesota. Bohbot sources City Girl Coffee beans from women-owned farms, and she donates part of her proceeds to pro-women coffee organizations.

The career shift began in 1990, when Bohbot’s parents launched Alakef Coffee Roasters. Her father Nessim was a chemist from Morocco who infused rich European flavors into coffee, which was a rarity in the Midwest at the time. It turned out to be exactly what the region craved — and the company flourished.

“It was very good timing on their part,” said Bohbot. “They rode this boom when specialty coffee was just exploding.”

When her parents announced they were retiring, Bohbot agreed to perform a trial run as CEO of Alakef. She fell in love with the work.

“When I saw everything firsthand, I just wanted to carry on the legacy of my parents,” she said. “It’s this incredible community of customers and employees that my parents created.”

Bohbot took over the company in 2015 and ditched the guidance counselor dream. But, she was going to do things her way — which meant giving back.

Alyza Bohbot at a coffee bean farm in Colombia.

Alyza Bohbot at a coffee bean farm in Colombia.

As Bohbot became more educated about the coffee business, she was alarmed particularly by discrimination against women-owned coffee farms abroad. During a conference, she heard a story about a woman in war-torn Colombia whose husband was killed, leaving her to take over their coffee farm. The widow was unable to secure a loan for equipment because she was a woman.

There isn’t much international data available on women in the coffee industry, but female coffee farm workers are often denied training and resources, leaving them unable to climb the chain or run their own business. The World Bank estimates that 500 million people throughout the world are dependent on coffee for their livelihoods.

“I needed to incorporate helping people into my business. We were already fair trade and organic...and I thought, focusing on women is how we could give back, remain true to our brand, and do something different,” said Bohbot.

Bohbot launched the City Girl Coffee line, which sources beans from women-owned farms in Central and South America, Africa and Indonesia. Five percent of City Girl Coffee profits go to the nonprofits International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) and Café Feminino, which fight for gender equity in the international coffee trade.

Alyza Bohbot at a coffee bean farm in Colombia.

Alyza Bohbot at a coffee bean farm in Colombia.

The City Girl Coffee formula takes inspiration from the original dark Alakef flavoring, though Bohbot is exploring different flavors and lighter roasts as well. The branding is unabashedly pink, feminine and loud about empowering women.

“It’s not for everybody,” she said. “But, we’re not alienating men. We have many male customers. It’s kind of cool now to explore the gender spectrum, so I don’t think it’s shameful for men to buy it. For men who are embarrassed by it, it’s not for them, and that’s okay.”

Under Bohbot’s leadership, the company has expanded distribution. Previously only available in the Midwest, City Girl Coffee will on the shelves at Giant Food retailers — which has 169 stores — on the coasts beginning in the fall.

“Part of the fun of growing our company our company, and the City Girl brand is, the more we grow, the more good we can do in this world,” Bohbot said.

Pioneer Press

7 questions for Alyza Bohbot of City Girl Coffee Co.

By Nancy Ngo

Alyza Bohbot, founder/owner of Duluth-based City Girl Coffee Co. and CEO/owner of Alakef Coffee Roasters. (Courtesy of Fresh Coast Collective)

Alyza Bohbot, founder/owner of Duluth-based City Girl Coffee Co. and CEO/owner of Alakef Coffee Roasters. (Courtesy of Fresh Coast Collective)

City Girl Coffee Co., the brand from Duluth-based Alakef Coffee Roasters that sources from women-owned or managed farms and cooperatives with a portion of sales going toward organizations to support gender equity in the coffee business, continues to expand its reach.

We chatted with Alyza Bohbot, founder/owner of City Girl Coffee Co. and CEO/owner of Alakef Coffee Roasters, about the inspiration behind City Girl Coffee Co., plans to expand to the East Coast market this month and what’s new at Alakef, including a new program to support local nonprofits and charities.

What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a singer, songwriter and actress.

What was your first introduction to coffee? It started with my parents. They started Alakef Coffee Roasters based in Duluth when I was 5, and I’ve been around the coffee industry my whole life. I would go with them when they had customer demos at various shows and things like that. I remember doing my paint-by-numbers in the back or passing around coffee samples.

How did you get into the food and beverage business? I got vocal nodules my senior year in high school and that kind of put that dream of singing on hold. The other thing I was always really passionate about was retail. I went to undergrad at Syracuse University and then went to the University of Massachusetts for a master’s in education. After college, I got a job with the Boston Beer Company. It was when I was living in the Boston area when my parents called and said they were ready to retire and wanted to see if I wanted to take over the business, and if I didn’t, they were ready to sell. I thought I would try this for six months. I moved back to Duluth in October 2013 and realized the passion I had for coffee.

How did City Girl Coffee Co. come about? Every year the Specialty Coffee Association holds a conference and that year it was in Seattle. I had reached out to one of our female importers as a way to connect with more women in the industry, and she invited me to this event. There was a speaker who told the story of a couple who were coffee growers in Columbia. When the husband passed away, the wife couldn’t get a loan from the bank for no other reason than because she was a woman. That was my a-ha moment. We could create something to raise awareness of gender inequity in the coffee business. We launched City Girl Coffee Co. in 2015.

How does City Girl Coffee Co. distinguish itself from other brands on the market? While some brands might also support organic, responsibly sourced and fair trade, we also set out to support women-managed farms and cooperatives and organizations that support this. A portion of our profits go to efforts in making sure these women have the resources to have a profitable and sustainable business. Coffee is the second largest traded commodity after oil. We want to be respectable and responsible in sourcing our product. A lot of people’s livelihoods rely on the coffee industry. As far as the flavor profile, we try to figure out through roasting how we can bring out those natural flavor profiles of where we source our coffee, be it citrus, acidic notes from Central American beans or chocolate, berry notes from Africa.

What’s next for Alakef Coffee Roasters? In the last year, we went through a rebranding process where it has all new packaging, a new color scheme and logo. We wanted to bring in the next generation but at the same time honor its history. My dad was a chemist, and he started roasting coffee in our home because he loved coffee. He learned how to do that on a larger scale. And that’s why you’ll see a chemist logo reference integrated into the design. My parents would give 5 percent of their bottom line to charities and organizations. With our rebranding, we have that give-back-to-the-local-community component. Through this new program, called Alakef Gives, we’re committed to supporting local nonprofits and charity organizations. We’re really doing something that’s been a tradition of Alakef Coffee for more than 30 years. Both brands have a give-back component. One is international and one is really local-local.

What’s next? We are getting ready to launch on the East Coast in August through the Giant Food grocery chain. It’s going to hit the shelves this month, and we’re preparing for that. We want to continue to let consumers know what we do and explore other areas of the country.


Inside the Coffee Brand Brewing Up Female Empowerment

The 3rd Hour of TODAY spotlights Alyza Bohbot, who took over her family’s coffee business, Alakef Coffee Roasters, and soon realized the challenges that female coffee growers are facing. She soon launched a sister company, City Girl Coffee, which raises awareness and sources its brew exclusively from female growers.

Martha Stewart Living

Meet the Women Behind Eight American Food Brands

Alyza Bohbot, Owner of City Girl Coffee Co.

Alyza Bohbot, Owner of City Girl Coffee Co.

Alyza Bohbot, City Girl Coffee Co. 

In many coffee-growing countries, women are still not allowed to own land or secure loans, despite making up nearly 65 percent of the labor on coffee farms. After City Girl Coffee Co.owner Alyza Bohbot learned about these staggering facts, she made it her mission to support these women and educate others about the inequality. Bohbot works closely with organizations including the International Women's Coffee Alliance and Café Femenino, a program designed to stop the mistreatment and poverty affecting women coffee bean farmers across the globe. She also sources as much coffee as possible from women-owned or -managed farms.

A+E Networks

Want to Change the World? These Food Groups Will Inspire You.


By SheReportsTM

Who They Are: This Minnesota-based coffee brand was founded by females and launched in 2015. City Girl Coffee strives to source its coffee from women-owned or women-managed farms and cooperatives; it also gives a percentage of sales to organizations that support the farms and cooperatives. The brand’s addictive Instagram account is filled with colorful images and the prolific usage of hashtags promoting empowerment and entrepreneurship —  all in support of City Girl Coffee’s goal to bring “awareness and equality to women of the coffee industry.”

What’s New: City Girl Coffee just rolled out new packaging, is expanding in the Midwest and is sold at select Target stores and online at target.com.


This Company Only Sources Its Coffee from Women-Led Farms

Courtesy of City Girl Coffee

Courtesy of City Girl Coffee

The founder of City Girl Coffee explains why women still face roadblocks to running their own businesses.

By Elizabeth Sherman

Alyza Bohbot founded the Duluth, Minnesota-based City Girl Coffee in 2015 with women in mind. She wanted to start a “girl-tastic” coffee company, but for Bohbot, that meant more than a pink banner on her website, or a logo that depicts a girl riding her moped. It meant finding a way to make sure her company would monetarily benefit women, too—marginalized women with few opportunities for economic growth, in particular. So she decided to go straight to the source, importing coffee only from farms owned or operated by women.

“The main priority is to make sure that women do have some ownership in the farm,” Bohbot told Food & Wine. “And to make sure they have resources and education, and that they’re paid fair wages.”

Bohbot explains that sourcing her coffee from these farms means that the revenue goes straight back to the women who run the operation, and in her experience, that means the surrounding community reaps the benefits of a boosted economy, too.

“When women have access to education and resources, they take that and put it back into their communities, [and create] more sustainable industries around them,” she says.

Bohbot works with many coffee farms that fall under the jurisdiction of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance—which supports the “participation of women in all aspects of the coffee industry”—but she often encounters women coffee farmers through her already-established contacts in the industry (Bohbot inherited another coffee company, Alakef Coffee Roasters, from her parents, so she has many “long-standing relationships” with coffee importers). In this way, she’s been able to do business with coffee farmers from places like Honduras and El Salvador who aren’t connected with any organization but meet City Girl’s standards.

At the moment, City Girl sources its coffee from eight to ten “origins” (or countries where coffee is produced), primarily in South America. That may not sound like very many, but as Bohbot explains, there are so many roadblocks that women face when it comes to starting their own businesses.

“There are still some areas of the world where it’s illegal for women to own land, where women have to petition to own land,” she explains as one of the first barriers women in particular face. “Women are still expected to produce and raise a family, and that’s that.”

Bohbot also cites the fact that many poor people in the countries where coffee is produced have “very little access to technology,” which makes it even more difficult to find a market for whatever they’re producing, whether it’s coffee, chocolate, or any other farmed commodity.

“There’s just a lack of resources across the board to get farmers’ product to market,” she says. “Women are [even] less likely to have access to the technology and the finances to market their product every year…. In any community and any culture, women often face more barriers than their male counterparts. We have to overcome a bit more. That’s not biased, that’s just true.”

Part of City Girl Coffee’s mission to provide a market for women who have managed to break through. That’s why this year, she’s hoping to launch a new arm of City Girl Coffee: what Bohbot calls a “digital marketplace platform,” that would allow women farmers to have better access to farmers that might want to potentially buy their coffee. The service would work in the other direction, too. In other words, Bohbot would be connecting roasters and farmers through a global online network. A common problem that she faces running City Girl Coffee inspired her to work on bringing the network to life.

“One issue I’m finding is that if we were running low on our Brazil supply, for instance, maybe [our farmer] didn’t have a good producing year so she doesn’t have enough product left. So [then] my general manager has to call all of our importers to ask if anyone has any Brazil coffee from a woman produced farm to help us finish production,” she explains.

Bohbot hopes that an online network of coffee farmers will allow her roastery and other socially conscious companies to find the product they need with ease, even on a time crunch. City Girl will also be expanding to new markets in 2018. Previously, most of their business has been confined to the Twin Cities area (although you can buy the coffee online), but Bohbot says that soon the company will be expanding so that City Girl Coffee will be available in Missouri.

In the midst of this period of expansion, however, Bohbot isn’t changing her original mission for City Girl Coffee in the slightest. It’s a company that is for women, run by a woman, that does more than preach empowerment to consumers—it puts that ideology into action.

Star Tribune

Duluth coffee roaster is using City Girl to help drive growth

Alyza Bohbot, owner of Alakef and City Girl Coffee, first hesitated to buy her parents’ business, but has led its rapid growth.

Alyza Bohbot, owner of Alakef and City Girl Coffee, first hesitated to buy her parents’ business, but has led its rapid growth.

By Neal S. Anthony

Owner Alyza Bohbot of Alakef Coffee Roasters has topped the cup with her 2015-launched City Girl Coffee of Minneapolis.

“City Girl accounts for most of the growth of the company,” Bohbot said of the reinvigorated firm that she expects to top $2 million in revenue this year. “Alakef is still the majority of the company. But we will grow [revenue] about 25 percent this year.

“Our goal always is profitable growth without sacrificing our core values and priorities for our [14] employees, customers, and our commitment to quality and environmental sustainability.”

Bohbot this month moved City Girl from her home to an office-warehouse-coffee bar in a renovated northeast Minneapolis building dedicated to small-food companies.

She is off to a good, three-year start as a coffee entrepreneur who has lit the fire under a reborn family business.

Bohbot, 32, also is the embodiment of the Minnesota specialty-foods movement that is growing much faster than the overall grocery market. She has emerged as a leader among women in her industry. And she’s taking the risk of her life.

And Bohbot is enjoying reinvigorating a business started by her immigrant parents in Duluth in 1990.

Nessim, 70, and Deborah Bohbot, 65, emigrated from Israel to Duluth in the early 1980s. Deborah worked for the Duluth schools. Nessim, who grew up in Morocco, started Alakef in the basement. He wanted to introduce a darker, richer coffee.

Alyza Bohbot remembers as a schoolgirl putting labels on bags of Alakef and helping her dad at Midwest coffee shows. However, she never envisioned owning it.

After studying business in college, Bohbot worked in sales for the maker of Sam Adams beer as she pursued a master’s degree at the University of Massachusetts. She planned a career in student counseling over beer peddling.

However, by 2013, the Bohbots were considering retiring. They wanted to sell Alakef. Alyza was the first choice, but not interested.

The Bohbots had talked to long-term employees about buying but they lacked interest and capacity. Moreover, Alakef was a mature business without much growth. It roasted coffee under its own and private labeled for coffee shops and retailers in and around Duluth.

Alyza Bohbot, after months of reconsideration, agreed to return to Duluth in 2014 to work with the employees and her dad for six months. A drive-it-to-buy-it test.

“The employees knew me, but I hadn’t been there for years,” she recalled. “I wanted to honor my parents and also the employees and the culture. Eventually, I reconnected with the business and the industry. I conceptualized the City Girl brand.”

She was hooked.

In 2015, Alyza Bohbot struck a deal to buy Alakef for about $1 million over 10 years. She needed sales growth.

City Girl, only two years old, now drives that profitable growth.

Run from Minneapolis by Alyza Bohbot and Henry Stein, a former marketer with Caribou Coffee and Coca-Cola marketer who oversees sales, four-employee City Girl already is on the shelf as a premium-priced brand at the likes of Lunds & Byerlys, Kowalski’s, Hy-Vee, several big co-op grocers and a major grocery chain in St. Louis.

City Girl has generated new revenue for Alakef, the Duluth roaster that employs 10.

“The hope is to keep generating momentum for Alakef through City Girl,” said Bohbot, who also has placed the Alakef-branded coffee on some new retail shelves. “We want to hook customers on two brands. That gives us more depth and awareness.”

This is not easy in the saturated coffee business.

Bohbot also is introducing the brands through partnerships with corporations such as Fox Sports, and women-centric festivals and sponsorships. Women around the world grow and harvest 70 percent of the coffee. Bohbot donates 5 percent of profit to the International Women’s Coffee Alliance and other organizations that provide grass-roots support to low-income female growers.

Bohbot understands the organic, one-step-at-a-time approach to growing a business.

Her parents, after they moved to Duluth, were surprised by the allegiance of neighbors to mass-market brands of coffee, such as Folgers and Maxwell House. Those were the days ahead of specialty coffees.

Nessim Bohbot started Alakef as a roasting experiment in his basement. Growing in 1990, he opened the company in downtown Duluth, where it still resides on Superior Street, the main drag.

Alyza Bohbot said profitable growth is critical to providing Alakef the funds to buy the business. And good jobs for employees, including health insurance and a 401(k) retirement plan.


City Girl Coffee Co. Is The Food Brand For Women We Actually Need


Marketing food and beverage brands specifically to women is not a new concept. We've seen gendered products from light beer labeled as Chick Beer to low-fat Monterey Jill Cheese. For the most part, these goods are unnecessary and, at their worst, they can cross the line into offensive. When we came across a company called City Girl Coffee Co., however, our usual concerns about feminized food products went out the window. This brand, with a mix of products including blends, single-origin beans, and even some K-Cup offerings, seems to be doing it right.

City Girl Coffee is female-owned, and the brand's goal is to empower women in coffee — an industry in which 70% of the work is done by women. Owner Alyza Bohbot does that, according to GrubStreet, by making City Girl the only roastery in the United States to only buy beans from farms that are managed by women. Additionally, 5% of all profits made by City Girl are donated to Café Femenino and the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (I.W.C.A). That is huge because, according to the I.W.C.A, women make up half of the world's coffee farmers, yet they face more challenges than their male counterparts because gender inequality is prevalent throughout many the regions where the world's best coffee is grown.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Alyza Bohbot who opened City Girl as an offshoot of her parents' company Alakef Coffee Roasters, referred to her coffee brand as "unapologetically feminine." She took an interesting approach when it came to marketing and branding. The City Girl Coffee Co. logo is written in white letters on a bright pink background and features a ponytail-wearing woman driving a scooter. The brand turns our associations with pink on their heads and has us asking, why do we think there's something inherently bad about being girly?

Though we don't need to be persuaded to support businesses that empower women, for those always looking for the bottom line, studies have shown that investing in women means in investing in entire communities and stimulation economies. According to the Clinton Foundation, women reinvest up to 90% of their incomes back into their families. In contrast, men reinvest around 35%. When women earn, it leads to "economic progress, expand[s] markets, and improve health and education outcomes for everyone."

City Girl Coffee's owner has managed to bring third-wave feminism's message that there is innate power in being feminine into the coffee industry, all while actually investing in real women workers. Which is why we're ready to invest in Bohbot's take on gendered food products.

The New York Times

Giving a Family Business a Jolt With Coffee That Empowers Women

Alyza Bohbot at the headquarters of Alakef Coffee Roasters, which was founded by her parents. “I don’t want to come in and keep things ho-hum,” she told them.CreditCreditJenn Ackerman for The New York Times

Alyza Bohbot at the headquarters of Alakef Coffee Roasters, which was founded by her parents. “I don’t want to come in and keep things ho-hum,” she told them.CreditCreditJenn Ackerman for The New York Times

By Dan Hyman

MINNEAPOLIS — As a child, Alyza Bohbot always respected the unflappable work ethic of her parents, who ran Alakef Coffee Roasters in Duluth, Minn. Still, in late 2014, when she was in her 20s, that didn’t stop her from warning them of their company’s potential downfall.

In Ms. Bohbot’s estimation, Alakef — a profitable enterprise that financed her voice lessons, provided for family vacations and allowed her to enroll at a private university — had grown stale.

“We were hitting a plateau, and it needed to be reinvigorated,” said Ms. Bohbot, now 32, all steely determination and dry humor. Her parents considered selling the company, but instead, she thought, “We needed someone to come in and infuse a lot of new energy.”

That person, she decided, was her.

“But I don’t want to come in and keep things ho-hum,” she told her parents. “If I’m going to do this, I want to make it my own and grow it and bring it somewhere new.”

So after taking control of the family business just under three years ago, she made the start of a sister company, City Girl Coffee Company, her primary focus. Unlike Alakef, City Girl is bold and risky, from its bright-pink logo and packaging to its business plan’s central tenet: fighting gender inequity in the coffee industry.

On average, according to the International Trade Center, women do 70 percent of the work in getting coffee to market but regularly cede or are barred from financial control, so City Girl gets its beans exclusively from farms and cooperatives that are owned or managed by women. In addition, the company donates 5 percent of all profit to organizations that support women in the industry, including the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, or I.W.C.A., and Café Femenino.

When consultants told her that “it’s great to have a mission, but it’s not enough to drive sales,” Ms. Bohbot insisted that an “unapologetically feminine” coffee brand would find consumers. Even so, the company’s success has exceeded her expectations: Sales — principally through City Girl’s online store and in the Twin Cities’ high-end retailers, including Kowalski’s Markets and Lunds & Byerlys — are up 300 percent year over year.

City Girl aims to break into other Midwest markets, including Chicago, St. Louis and Des Moines, and then to select cities on the East Coast. Still, Ms. Bohbot is willing to be patient.

“If you blow up too quickly, you will sacrifice something,” she said.

She has played witness to a slow build before. When her parents, Nessim and Deborah Bohbot, moved to Duluth from Israel in the late 1980s, they were dumbfounded by their new neighbors’ preference for mass-market coffee brands like Folgers and Maxwell House, so they began roasting coffee in their basement. After locals started taking notice and wanting to buy the coffee, Alakef was formed.


Small Company, Mighty Mission: City Girl Coffee Aims to Source Solely from Female Farmers

Alyza Bohbot, founder & owner of City Girl Coffee CREDIT: CITY GIRL COFFEE

Alyza Bohbot, founder & owner of City Girl Coffee CREDIT: CITY GIRL COFFEE

By Kara Stiles

Nearly 25 years after her parents started a tiny coffee roasting company in a basement in Duluth, Minnesota, Alyza Bohbot agreed to take full ownership of the family business. Acquainting herself with a primarily male-driven coffee industry, she attended an International Women’s Coffee Alliance event and was moved by the story of a Colombian woman who struggled to sustain her coffee farm after her husband died. Because this farmer was a woman, banks refused to provide the loans needed to keep the farm up and running.

Bohbot learned that while women play a major role in coffee harvesting, they often have little economic power or influence over sales. Increasingly invested in the plight of female coffee farmers, Bohbot decided to try her hand at making change and recalibrated her business mission to include more than selling specialty coffee in lakeside Minnesota. 

Inspired to help the farmers responsible for her cherished daily cup, she created City Girl Coffee in 2015, a brand that aims to source from women-owned and managed farms - from Brazil to Indonesia - while working to raise consumer awareness of gender inequality in the world’s coffee-producing communities.

In this edited and condensed Q&A, Bohbot shares how she approaches the challenges of small business ownership and explains why social missions should be more than just a marketing tool.

Kara Stiles: What was the inspiration for creating the City Girl Coffee brand?

Alyza Bohbot: I wanted to create a brand where we sourced all of the coffee from women-owned and managed farms from around the world, and then worked with organizations like the International Women’s Coffee Alliance and Café Femenino to give back to these women, to create more of a sustainable coffee industry and to put more of the focus on women - who don’t always have access to resources, education and funding.

Stiles: I imagine you juggle some unique challenges as a small business owner since City Girl depends on female farmers across the world, often in developing or impoverished regions. How do you manage this?

Bohbot: I sit on the board of the International Coffee Women's Alliance, so that's opened up a lot of avenues to access these women, but we really rely on the relationships with our importers, relationships we’ve had for well over 20 years. They have a capability of working more closely with a broader range of farmers. I just don't have the resources to go and travel to every different country or travel constantly to these farms, and so we relied on these relationships with the importers to say, "We want to source from women. What farms do you have relationships with?" We're able to really rely on some of those larger partnerships to help us with sourcing and ensuring that we are in fact supporting what we say we're supporting.

Stiles: Beyond forming and nurturing these relationships, what else is most difficult for you as a small business owner?

Bohbot: As a sole woman owner, you have to wear a lot of different hats. They always say, “At some point you have to work on the business and not in the business.” You're not doing the company any favors by being bogged down. Sometimes you have to take a step back and know what resources are available to you as a small business owner to allow you to be the visionary.

We also want to be able to offer candidates the most competitive package, but sometimes I'm not able to offer them what a larger company might offer them. I try to segment that with flexible hours and other company benefits. But as a small business, there's only so much money. You can't always afford to give everybody what you'd ideally love to give them, to represent the work and value that you think that they have.

Stiles: So you find yourself competing with bigger companies for top talent. How would you advise other small companies approach attracting and retaining top candidates?

Bohbot: Salary isn't the only thing that a candidate is interested in, and so for us it's been finding out what is important to a candidate before offering them a competitive package. There are different ways to get creative and structure employment packages that still feel really competitive and fulfilling to a candidate without being necessarily the highest-paying offer that they're going to receive. It's important as a smaller company to take the time and ask potential candidates, "What do you value? What is important to you? What would feel like a competitive package to you?" And that's not always base salary.

Stiles: Who are your consumers and how do you get them to really care about your sourcing and, more broadly, the cycle of poverty and gender inequality facing women in the industry?

Bohbot: I think millennials are a large target population for us. As a group they're much more conscientious about what they're purchasing and from whom. Nobody in the coffee industry was specifically focused on these issues and I think we were on time and on the right side of things as this became a more prevalent topic in the coffee industry.

For us, it's not just a marketing tool. It's really sincere to the brand and sincere to the mission of what we're trying to do. It's coming from such a genuine place within me, within the company, and everybody who works on my team really just feels so passionately connected to the work that we're doing, the product that we're providing and the overall impact of what's happening. I think consumers see that and feel that.

Stiles:  How do you familiarize yourself with your audience and consumer base in order to better reach them via City Girl’s social media presence?

Bohbot: We've spent time digging into the psyche of our City Girl consumer to help guide us, giving her a name and asking "Where does she shop?" and "Who else does she follow on Instagram?" A little bit of it was watching and listening to what other like-minded companies were doing and being very aware of trends.

Stiles: Can you discuss how you incorporated social media as a marketing tool and describe your digital presence? I see that your website is feminine, conversational - and very pink.

Bohbot: We have cute colors, cute branding and we want to be a pertinent lifestyle brand because you just have to be in order to be competitive in the coffee industry. So we embrace that but we go beyond that. Having a sort of lifestyle approach to our Instagram is a great way to draw people in and then drive them to the website for that deeper content.

What we've found is that the engagement is just less significant when we do more of the heavy content. Whereas it's more significant once they get to the website. We want Instagram to be like the cover of our book: it’s fun, it’s lifestyle and it drives you to pick up the book. Then, you're gonna flip it over and you want to read.

Stiles: Looking back on the beginning of the City Girl brand, do you feel you made any mistakes?

Bohbot: People told me, "Don't do too much. Pick something, focus on it, do that really well and then move onto the next thing." But within the year that I took ownership and started the City Girl brand, I tried to open a café space inside of a grocery store and it was too much. Essentially, I tried to take one business and turn it into three in my first year of owning it, and looking back, it was a terrible idea. Trust your gut and really stay focused on the things that are most important to you in the right now.

Stiles: Your aim is to sell good coffee while advocating for your farmers. What’s your advice for entrepreneurs interested in incorporating a social cause into their business?

Bohbot: I think there’s a distinction between companies who genuinely have a purpose and really want to make a difference and companies who feel like they need to have an additional marketing piece. So I would always say: if you're going to rest your hat on the fact that you are a company who is trying to make an impact on the world, have that be genuine, have that be a true pillar of your business model and not just an afterthought or marketing tool.

Perfect Duluth Day

City Girl Coffee

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

City Girl Coffee

Name: Alyza Bohbot
Company: Alakef Coffee Roasters and City Girl Coffee
Position: Owner/CEO
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! 

Northland News Center

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.

Heavy Table

City Girl Coffee

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.

Minnesota Monthly

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.

Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/city-girl-coffeetm-launch-party-tickets-18444699593

MN Daily

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.”

WCCO Mid Morning

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.

Roast Magazine

City Girl Coffee

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.”