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Duluth coffee roaster strikes major deals

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120318.N.DNT.CityGirlC1 -- Alyza Bohbot2 / 2

A Duluth coffee retailer made both online and big-box breakthroughs last month, when City Girl Coffee Co. finalized agreements to be sold on Amazon and by Target stores throughout Minnesota.

“And one in the state of Virginia,” owner and CEO Alyza Bohbot said. “We don’t really know how that happened, but we’ll be distributed at the Target store in Leesburg (Va.), too.”

The hot pink- and aqua-colored 12-ounce packages of coffee are available at those retailers now. It’s the latest development for the 3-year-old brand which sources as much of its coffee as possible from small, women-owned or -managed farms and co-operatives from around the globe.

In a phone interview with the News Tribune last week, Bohbot described the moves as symbolic of the trust and recognition the brand has forged in a relatively short time — and despite a coffee market brimming with brands.

“This is right where we were hoping we would be as a company,” she said. “Where we go from here depends on how successful we can be.”

City Girl already had a footing with Target as the official coffee supplier to Target Center in Minneapolis, and a partner with the arena’s professional basketball inhabitants — the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx.

Bohbot described conversations with Amazon and Target as going through brokers and being years long. The deals were sealed, in part, by a recently hired City Girl executive who’d previously worked with the mega-retailers. Bohbot characterized Target as an “early adopter” of new brands, but “they don’t necessarily want to be the first one to carry a brand,” she said.

City Girl, with its silhouette logo of a woman on a Vespa scooter, is a brand of Alakef Coffee Roasters, the Duluth company her parents, Nessim and Deborah, started in their kitchen in 1990. Bohbot launched City Girl shortly after taking over the company from her retiring parents in 2015.

In being thrust into the trade at high levels, she quickly became inspired to help elevate the profile of women in coffee. Worldwide, she found that women made up large swaths of workers and growers, but faced greater hurdles, including sexist lending practices. Her parents had also always charitably invested 5 percent of Alakef profits back into the Northland, and Bohbot wanted to bring a similar sense of purpose to the City Girl brand.

With Alakef a well-established brand throughout the Northland, City Girl has striven to conquer the metro area.

“We’re in all the Lunds & Byerlys, Kowalski's Markets, Whole Foods (Markets), Hy-vees and a couple of different cafes and restaurants,” Bohbot said.

City Girl has a business office in the Twin Cities, but the roasting and production still take place in Duluth.

Alakef recently underwent a rebranding — including an updated logo and stylish new font — and Bohbot described the twin brands as carrying different appeals. City Girl tends to attract folks who are twenty and thirtysomething, while core users for Alakef are 40 and older.

“Different demographics, but they share the same value system,” said Bohbot, who shares part of City Girl profits with organizations that support women’s advancement in the coffee industry.

Bohbot and her fiancé recently played in a soccer game together in the Twin Cities, where their ears perked upon hearing the anecdote of a mother and daughter — one a sworn Alakef drinker and the other having just found what she thought was a great new coffee: City Girl.

“The same buyers in the same household,” Bohbot said. “It was just indicative of what we want.”

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