When Alyza Bohbot’s parents founded Alakef Coffee in Duluth in 1990, it was one of the Upper Midwest’s first specialty roasters. Her father, who’d immigrated to the U.S. from Morocco after meeting and marrying her American mother in Israel, was the “coffee connoisseur” in the family, says Bohbot, explaining that the robust European-style cup he preferred “just didn’t exist in northern Minnesota in the 1980s.”
Though Bohbot had fond memories of helping her dad smooth labels onto Alakef’s coffee bags, she never imagined taking over the family business. That changed five years ago, when her parents announced that they were planning to sell the roastery. Bohbot saw the opportunity before her. While her parents had built a respected and profitable company, what differentiated their brand early on—like selling organic, fair-trade beans and roasting to order—was now commonplace. Bohbot wanted to carve a new path.
Her a-ha! moment came at an International Women’s Coffee Alliance conference in Seattle, where Bohbot heard a story about a couple who owned a coffee farm in Colombia. After the husband died in war, the wife applied for a bank loan to fix a piece of broken farm equipment. She was denied solely because she was a woman. “It was so eye-opening,” Bohbot says. “I’d spent my entire life in and around the coffee industry and had no idea this inequity existed.”
The more Bohbot dug into injustices in the trade, the more her mission came into focus. “I realized how significant it is that women have access to a fair marketplace, resources, education, and financing,” she says. “I felt motivated to do something.”
Bohbot launched City Girl Coffee in 2015 with the goal of sourcing beans from small, women-owned or managed farms and cooperatives. She also donates a portion of proceeds back to the countries where the coffee comes from—Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Indonesia, and beyond. Today Target and Whole Foods carry City Girl’s beans, and a direct-to-consumer subscription includes more premium offerings. As the company continues to scale, responsible and sustainable sourcing remains a top priority.
The ripple effect has been immeasurable—impacting not just specific women, but entire communities. “One of the women from a cooperative in Guatemala said it’s because of roasters like us that they’re not just producing coffee, they’re making honey, jewelry, and clothing,” she says. “That’s everything you hope for when you start a company like this.”
This post was excerpted from Minnevangelist co-founder Ashlea Halpern’s profile of Bohbot for Midwest Living magazine. You can read her full feature story here: “7 Inspirational Women Who Are Making a Difference.”