Seattle may be America’s coffeehouse, but the Twin Cities is definitely holding its own. Home to two national brands – Caribou and Dunn Bros – as well as several smaller roasters, dozens of top-notch coffee shops, and a pretty passionate coffee culture.
Somewhere along my caffeinated journey I came across City Girl Coffee Co. The packaging caught my attention with its bright colors and female logo (two rarities) and when I found out it was based out of Duluth and the Twin Cities I was hooked. Besides having great beans this small company also has a great story and a group of passionate people behind it.
This female owned company sources their beans from women-owned and women-managed farms and a portion of every sale goes back to organizations that support this growing community.
Recently I was honored to correspond with owner Alyza Bohbot about her company, life, and pursuing your passions.
The company, Alakef Coffee Roasters, was originally owned by your parents. Did you always plan on taking over the family business? If not, what were your other aspirations and what made you go into this profession instead? No, actually for a long time I was adamant that I was NOT going to come back into the business. When I was younger, I had dreams of becoming a singer/songwriter, but my junior year in High school; I developed vocal nodules, so none of my auditions to music programs went well. I ended up getting my undergrad in Retail management from Syracuse University, thinking that I maybe wanted to be a department store buyer. After graduation, though, I ended up doing sales for the Boston Beer Company, and after a few years with them, realized that I had a passion for education and helping others, so ended up getting my masters in School Counseling, with the intention of being a High School Guidance Counselor. It wasn’t until my parents called to tell me they had plans to sell the business if I wasn’t interested, that I suddenly felt so strong, internally, that I didn’t want to see the business leave our family. In a moment, I knew I had to come back and try my hand at the family business. I never wanted to look back on my life and wonder, what if?
I love that you are focused on women owned or women managed farms for your sourcing and that you give back to organizations that focus on supporting the success of these women. Have you had the opportunity to see changes or progress from your work? I definitely still think we have a long ways to go in terms of women equality in coffee, but one thing I have noticed is, it is easier for me to find women owned or managed farms to source from now, than it was 2 years ago, so I feel hopeful that we are heading in the right direction! Also, through my participation with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, I have had the great fortune of more direct access to these women, and have been able to hear from them about how being involved with an organization like the IWCA has helped to gain them access to education, resources, and financing. This has helped them improve their farming techniques, bring their coffee to market, and create sustainability for their surrounding communities.
Do you think women in coffee face gender inequalities in the US or are they in a position to help the women growers in other countries? I think a little bit of both. While we are certainly “in a position to help” women growers in other countries, the coffee industry in general is still fairly male dominated. Especially when it concerns coffee roasters. One of the first things I did when I took ownership of the business was get our WBENC certification, which certifies that we are a woman-owned business. This not only gives us a competitive advantage in our market, but we have had so many people reach out to us and tell us how excited they are to support a woman-owned coffee company. Recently, we brought a new female production team member on in Duluth, and she will start her roaster training soon, so we are really excited to continue to expand the roles of females in our industry, both here and abroad.
Finding people who are passionate about what they are pursuing in life is something I truly enjoy. I count you among those people I’ve come across that have found a pursuit that feeds their passions. What do you love about what you do? What keeps you going day after day? I love that I get to be the best part of someone’s day. So many times, you ask someone, “what is the favorite part of your day?” and they will tell you, “that first cup of coffee.” When someone purchases City Girl Coffee or Alakef, they are, in a sense, inviting us into their homes, and we get the chance to make them happy day after day. I just love that!
Coffee is your life so of course we must know – what is your favorite way to make a cup of coffee? I love cold brewed coffee. It tends to be less acidic and our specific cold press blend is so sweet and smooth, you don’t need sugar or cream or anything! Plus, once you brew the concentrate, it is good in your fridge for 2-3 weeks. In the morning, all you have to do is pour it over ice, or dilute it with hot water, and you’re off!
I am super picky about my coffee cups and know some people can’t drink their morning brew without their trusty vessel. Do you have a favorite mug? Is there a story behind it? I don’t have a favorite mug, but there are a few coffee mugs floating around our offices in Duluth, that my dad used for years and years, so I drink out of those whenever I can. It makes me feel like he’s still sitting in the office with me!
Are you a morning only, two time a day, or all day sipper when it comes to your coffee? Sort of depends on what we have going on that day… but usually I drink some in the morning, maybe a cup in the afternoon, but at some point, I usually switch to tea 🙂
As part of this Makers Series I’m chatting with businesses mostly in Minnesota. What do you love about being a small business in Minnesota? Minnesota has an amazing small business community. I love getting to meet other small business owners and entrepreneurs to share experiences, and learn from one another. Sometimes, as an owner of a company, it can get a little lonely, but by being a part of this community in Minnesota, I never feel like I’m really ever alone! There is always someone willing to lend an ear.
I just want to thank Alyza for letting me get a little glimpse into her life at City Girl Coffee and encourage everyone to check out these amazing beans.