“Did you know that coffee originates as a seed growing within a fruit?” Alyza Bohbot asks as she opens a tiny, red berry plucked from a waxy shrub growing inside the front windows of her business, Alakef Coffee Roasters.
As I examine the tiny, pale coffee bean nestled within, I am struck by the mustery and exotic beauty within both the bean and the woman before me.
History of Alakef
As just thirty years old, Bohbot is the owner and CEO of Alakef Coffee Roasters in Duluth. Alakef is a Hebrew slang term meaning “the best” or “hits the spot.”
Alakef was founded by Alyza’s parents, Deborah and Nessim Bohbot, in Duluth in 1990. The Bohbots, who are both Jewish, met while living and working at a Kibbutz (communal-style living arrangement) in Israel. Nessim is from Morocco, and Deborah is from Florida.
After a move to the United States, Nessim yearned for the thick, full-bodied caffeinated drink of his homeland. Alyza shares, “It was the mid ‘80s; there was no ‘specialty coffee’ at that time. My father was used to drinking robust European coffee and seemed to know there was a need for it here in Duluth.”
Deborah purchased a small home coffee roaster for Nessim, who began roasting coffee beans in their kitchen. With a background as a chemist, Nessim used his experience to answer questions such as whether to continue roasting past the “first crack” of the bean. Along with his education, a lot of trial and error was involved. Thus began the humble foundation of Alakef Coffee Roasters.
A Family Business
As she was growing up, Alyza has fond memories of helping her parents with the business. “My earliest memory is of labeling the bags. My father would say, ‘Nice and straight, now; no bubbles.’”
Alakef now has fifteen employees, from sales and marketing staff to its talented, artisanal coffee roasters. They purchase green coffee beans from the farms around the world, such as Ethiopia and Guatemala. Then Alakef roasts them on-site.
Since day one, Alakef has had a history of reusing, reducing, and recycling. “Organic and fair trade were important to us before they were buzzwords,” Alyza says. They offer hand-packed, fully recyclable K-Cups, and are a certified organic facility. Alakef is also kosher certified.
Path to Becoming the Boss
An only child, Alyza was very close with her parents. She spent a lot of time traveling to coffee trade shows with her mom and dad, but she also had jobs throughout high school, including life-guard, sales clerk, and nanny. Alyza attended Marshall School, where she was the captain of the dance team and excelled in music.
After graduation, Alyza attended Syracuse University, where she majored in retail management. She soon got a job at Sam Adams selling beer. After a change in heart, however, she earned her Master’s Degree in School Counseling.
Around this time, Deborah and Nessim were ready to retire. They understood if Alyza wanted to take over the family business, that was the time.
“That conversation really struck a chord with me,” Alyza shares. “I didn’t want to see the business leave our family. I also didn’t want to look back and wonder what might have been.”
In 2013, Alyza moved to Minneapolis, where she rents an apartment. She travels to Duluth several days per week. Last January, after a six-month trial, Alyza took over sole ownership, as well as the role of president and CEO of Alakef Coffee Roasters. Her parents moved to Miami upon retirement, but remain on Alyza’s trusted “Board of Advisors.”
While Alyza is working hard to preserve the legacy of her parents’ business, she also has plenty of ideas of her own. Last year, she opened Alakef Cup, a coffee shop found inside the Kenwood Super One. She also recently launched City Girl Coffee, a socially-conscious company purchasing its beans from farms solely owned by women. “Alakef is our core; my parents worked hard to build this amazing business but City Girl is a product that reflects on me. It is a little bit younger and vibrant and helps to empower women,” Alyza says. City Girl is currently only available in the Twin Cities metro area, and is sold at Kowalski’s Grocery Stores, as well as many of the local co-ops.
At just 30 eyars old, Alyza’s passion and drive are impressive. She is active in many local civic groups, including Fuse Duluth, the Minnesota Chamber, and the Duluth Chamber. She is also the vice president of marketing on the board for the International Women’s Coffee Alliance.
Relishing her Downtime
Alyza works hard, and she likes to unwind by walking, biking, and rollerblading with friends around Lake Calhoun. She enjoys yoga, and spending time with her dog, Rocky. She loves writing and performing songs and even auditioned for American Idol!
Her passion for her work is evident, and truly knows her craft. “When I was much younger, I used to drink coffee with a lot of cream and sugar,” she shares, “But now i have a great appreciation for coffee on its own. If you pay attention, you can pick up notes of chocolate or cinnamon… nuances which are specific to a particular region or even an individual farm.”
Alakef Coffee Roasters offers informational tours and sampling. For more information, visit alakef.com
Written by Andrea Busche as published in The Woman Today. On newsstands now.