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.