It’s been a busy few years for the owners of Kahwa Coffee. When Raphael and Sarah Perrier, owners of the St. Petersburg-based coffee company, aren’t releasing unique collaborations or limited-edition blends, they’re expanding in real estate with the opening of new locations throughout the Tampa Bay area, thanks to its relatively new model of franchising.
TBBW caught up with the Perriers for another “Cover Update.” This transcript has been edited for length and brevity.
We interviewed you in late 2019, right before the world shut down and things got weird. Since then, your business has grown. Talk about the growth since early 2020.
At that time, we were poised to get a capital investment and expand throughout the state; 2020 was going to be our year! We were projected to have the best year, ever, for our company and we were filled with optimism on where we were going.
With the pandemic, everything got put on hold and we decided that it wasn’t the right timing for us for a capital investment. We took some time to step back and look at the future of our company and decided to go a different route. We slowed down on the café location expansion and focused on strengthening other areas of the business. We decided to launch franchising, as our next step, and our strategy is to do it right by taking our time with launching and being selective in finding great long-term partners that understand the Kahwa brand.
We have currently sold 16 units and are very excited about growing our reach throughout Florida, and beyond. As we wrap up 2023, we feel like we are finally back to that spot we were in early 2020, in terms of the momentum of our expansion, and we are excited to move into this next chapter.
Again, going back to the pandemic. How did you guys navigate through it?
The beginning was very intense. We had to pivot to keep our employees safe, and employed, but also make sure our business was able to survive long term. Luckily, we have a multi-channel business but we had to pivot and reallocate our resources.
We launched an order-ahead system for our cafes, for pickup orders, in one week, at the same time launching our products on Amazon and putting more resources into our e-commerce and subscription channels.
We decided to raise our hourly workers’ pay, as they were losing money from tips, so they could survive, as well as give emergency pay to supplement their income when we had to shut stores temporarily. All these aspects ended up strengthening different areas in our business. We learned a lot to come back better than ever.
Kahwa, as a business, is engaged with the community and often has a philanthropic component behind business offerings. What philanthropic endeavors are top of mind this year?
Being a part of our communities and supporting different causes is just something that we feel is part of being a good business and a good human. As a business, we are trying to be more focused in the upcoming year to see where we can make the most impact. We have a tendency to say “yes” to too much and then not be as effective as we would like. We are continuing, and improving, on two projects: The Artist Can Series to support the St. Pete Artist Endowment with the St. Pete Art Alliance, as well as our Hope Roast Blend to support the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation. We also will be planning how we can integrate our philanthropy to scale with the growth of Kahwa to new communities through our franchisees.
What’s exciting you these days? What’s next for the Kahwa brand?
Franchising is a new business for us and it has, so far, been great to bring in new partners in our franchisees that are of a similar mindset to us and will be owning a piece of Kahwa that they can share with their communities the same way we do.
We can only be in so many stores or at so many events. We feel it will make our brand even stronger to have owners who live, and work, near their stores and are invested in their customers. The personal touch, and passion, of these franchisees are really what will bring the expansion to life. Helping people who believe in Kahwa and are excited to be part of our growth has been inspiring.
What haven’t I asked you that you wish I would have?
The question on everyone’s mind (we get asked by at least one person every day)… what about the 4th Street location? No, we don’t want to talk about it, but, yes, it is coming soon. We promise! ♦