Kahwa Coffee owners talk new shipping container store, Publix & more

CEO Connect

Brewing since 2006, Kahwa Coffee has had a fairy tale of a story. What started as one shop has grown into a heavy hitter in the local brewing community. Kahwa now has 15 locations, with plans to open four more, sells its packaged coffee beans in Publix, is a part of Publix’s in-store coffee bar model, has more than 800 wholesale customers, a candle line with a partnership through Tampa’s Seventh Avenue Apothecary, and has helped raise hundreds of thousands for local charities. With revenue of $10 million in 2019, Raphael and Sarah Perrier, founders and owners of the coffee roaster, who we profiled in our February issue, have no plans on slowing down their dream to become Florida’s top coffee-roaster brand. (See photos from the event below. NOTE: This event was held in February before COVID-19 resulted in social distancing.)  

Bridgette Bello, CEO and publisher of TBBW, interviewed the Perriers in front of a sold-out live audience at Tampa International Airport.

Did anybody pick up on that we did a married couple in the February issue? We thought it was cute. So I understand that you’ve had quite the flurry of activity since being on the cover, of why don’t you talk about that and how it’s been a good, or a bad, thing?

Raphael: It has been a fantastic month. It’s a weird feeling when you see yourself on the cover, I’ll be honest. It’s emails after emails. It’s text after text. It’s congratulations after congratulations. So it was a big deal for us.

My favorite part, which you didn’t say, is that you’ve had a ton of people call you and try to invest in the company.

Raphael: That was the biggest thing, getting emails that say, ‘How do we invest, how do we get in now?’ The story you did was fantastic and, you know, I think you just excited a lot of people.

You’ve had a lot of success in multiple locations, and Danny mentioned you guys just opened in the airport, which is pretty awesome timing, and we did not do that on purpose, believe it or not. But TIA was quite excited about hosting because it was you guys, but you’re doing something cool in St. Pete that hasn’t been done yet. Talk about that. 

Raphael: We’re going to do the first St. Petersburg container store and it is going to be a drive-through made of three different shipping containers, recycled air containers. We are very, very excited about the whole project. The city is very, very excited about it. The mayor is excited about it. It’s going to look, really, really cool.

Sarah: It’s a whole different way to build a drive-through and we’re excited to bring the first one into St. Pete.

One of my favorite parts of your story is the amount of local partnerships that you guys have and how you’re very intentional about that. And we talked about Seventh Avenue Apothecary doing your candles and 3 Daughters Brewing doing your canning and Publix doing their things. So can you talk through why that’s important to your business, why it’s important to you individually and how that helps you?

Sarah: From the beginning, as a small business, we’ve had a lot of support from the community and the whole Tampa Bay area. We try to support other local businesses and work together. I think it’s a big part of the whole economy in this area, supporting each other locally. And so we try to work with local bakeries and companies like the Seventh Avenue Apothecary to create new products. The community has supported us so much in this area and we’d like to support other businesses.

Raphael: It’s part of the philosophy of the whole company. Everybody was behind us when we started from pretty much scratch and we feel that it’s part of our job now to keep on supporting whoever we can in the area. Plus, we believe that Tampa Bay has a great dynamic between all those brands and all those new companies going and some not-so-new anymore. But it’s fun to work with people that you know are local and right there with you.

Sarah: Sometimes, it’s hard to take on—you know, we won’t say the name, the big green name in our industry, the other coffee shop out there. But people support local businesses around here and it’s been a great thing for us.

It’s a big deal that you’re on the shelves in Publix but there’s something else brewing, forgive the pun. Can you talk about that yet?

Raphael: Our distributor in the Tampa Bay area started a program which was called the Local Program, which was a pilot program for Publix. The idea was to create a coffee shop inside Publix. They started putting cafes in new Publix stores, all new Greenwise stores and all of the renovated Publix stores. And we do all of the coffee for those coffee shops, which is cool. It was a pilot program at first. Now the program is working. So now we are talking about branding and seeing Kahwa in Publix as the brand itself. It’s a pretty big, big step for us.

When will that happen?

Sarah: The first one should be rolling out pretty soon. Publix doesn’t rush into anything. I also want to call out Paradise Advertising & Marketing, who is working with us on our marketing and helps get the word out about us, in general.

Will the cafes inside Publix be branded as Kahwa Coffee Cafes?

Raphael: Yes. The idea is to be proudly serving Kahwa Coffee. We’re now working on images, branding and all those things. Believe it or not, there is not one store around the Tampa Bay area that has a Kahwa Café yet. All of those 25 stores that we have are in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Gainesville and Tallahassee. They just realized that by changing the product and putting a good coffee in it that it’s working. So now that it’s working, we asked them nicely, “Can you just give us one store in Tampa Bay?”

Did they say yes?

Raphael: Yes, the first one you will see is the new Greenwise Publix they are building in Channelside [in Tampa].

Philanthropy is very important to you guys and your business. You have a new partnership with the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Can you talk about that?

Sarah: Yes, this is a great project. We’re launching it officially in May. It’s a great organization that works for research on pediatric cancer. We’re starting a new program called Brew Funds the Cure. They do it already on the beer side they have a national program where they work with beer breweries.

Raphael: It was started by Cigar City three years ago.

Sarah: We’re doing a special blend that is going to be sold and a lot of the profits are going to the Cancer Foundation. We’re the first roaster and they’re going roll it out nationwide with different roasters in every state having its own roaster. But we’re excited about that. We just love giving back to the community in general. So it’s been a great partnership. ♦


About CEO Connect

TBBW’s “CEO Connect” series is an exclusive, invitation-only, monthly event that brings together the Tampa Bay area’s top business leaders to meet and mingle. Sponsors for February’s event included CenterState Bank, Insperity, CLA and Celebrity Cruises as presenting sponsor, Thomas Financial as a gold-level sponsor and Tampa International Airport as host sponsor. DCE is our production partner.

Typically, the evening begins with a cocktail reception for about 130 guests, followed by an interview of that month’s cover CEO, providing insight into their lives, careers and views on issues affecting the business community. The interview is usually conducted by Bridgette Bello, TBBW’s CEO and publisher.

Partnering with TBBW provides an opportunity to network with the area’s business elite, generate new business opportunities and increase brand awareness.

For information about event sponsorship opportunities, email Jason Baker at [email protected]

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