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.

by Nancy Ngo

This article appeared in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press on August 7, 2019.