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.