Made in the Northland: Alakef Coffee Roasters keeps growingSince 1990, Alakef Coffee Roasters has been producing specialty wholesale and retail coffee in Duluth with an emphasis on organic and fair trade coffees.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
Since 1990, Alakef Coffee Roasters has been producing specialty wholesale and retail coffee in Duluth with an emphasis on organic and fair trade coffees.
Roasting beans the old-fashioned way — by hand, so the variables can be controlled — Alakef offers dozens of varieties and blends of whole bean coffee. Each year, the company’s profits have grown, and its distribution has expanded.
But for company founders Deborah and Nessim Bohbot, it all started with a search for a great cup of coffee.
It was the 1980s, before specialty coffee shops ruled the land. The couple started experimenting at home with a small home roaster. Their hobby turned into a business in 1990 when they started Alakef in the basement of the old Salter School, 1600 London Road in Duluth.
The couple had lived for a time in Israel, which inspired the name “Alakef,” Middle Eastern slang for “hits the spot,” “it’s great” and “the best.”
Their business of roasting imported beans took off. In 2000, the company moved to a larger, state-of-the-art coffee-roasting facility at 1330 E. Superior St. in Duluth. At 13,000 square feet, it was four times larger than the school site, with plenty of room for a bigger coffee roaster and room to increase efficiency and quality control.
Today, Alakef makes two dozen single-source coffees, four dozen blends and two dozen flavored coffees with new blends continuing to be added. Half of its blends are made specifically for private labels, and the rest are available to the public, said Roy Alexander, Alakef’s general manager.
All are roasted to order.
“That’s all we do,” Alexander said.
The beans Alakef roasts come from South America, Central America, Africa and the Far East, but its highest volume coffees come from Peru and Brazil. The most popular Alakef coffees are blends, including its breakfast blends, Highland Grog and organic Peru, Alexander said.
Alakef supplies about 200 coffee shops, restaurants, co-ops and grocery stores in the Midwest with its beans. In Twin Ports Super One stores, you can buy Alakef beans in bulk for about $10 per pound and 12-ounce packages for about the same price.
As its profits have grown, so has its staff, from two to 10 employees. In 2011, the owners were nominated for the prestigious Joel Labovitz Entrepreneurial Success Award.
Locally, you can find Alakef Coffee Roasters served at Beaner’s Central, Amazing Grace, Nokomis Restaurant and New Scenic Café.
The buy-local movement has given the company an added boost.
“We have a strong following,” Alexander said. “People in the Northland seem to be quite loyal to a good product. There’s all sorts of local products here in the Twin Ports. And people seem to support that.”