Sarah and Raphael Perrier: “No Risk, No Reward”

From day one, our vision has been to offer a gathering place for people of all races, backgrounds and political beliefs. A place to come together, peacefully debate differences and dream up solutions. Our goal is to continue to stand with our community in the fight for equality. I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah […]

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From day one, our vision has been to offer a gathering place for people of all races, backgrounds and political beliefs. A place to come together, peacefully debate differences and dream up solutions. Our goal is to continue to stand with our community in the fight for equality.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah and Raphael Perrier, founders of Kahwa Coffee Roasting Company, a wholesale and retail coffee company based in St. Petersburg, Fl. Founded in 2006. Kahwa has become the largest independent coffee roaster in the state of Florida.

Kahwa’s reputation is built on the quality and consistency of the product. 100% premium quality Arabica beans are selected from different origins around the world, these beans are then blended and skillfully roasted to produce a complex flavor that allows each origin to yield its most distinct palate.

Each blend is roasted and packaged on demand to guarantee quality and freshness.

Kahwa’s wholesale customers skyrocketed in 2008 after receiving the stamp of approval from a world-renowned French chef, Paul Bocuse, who selected Kahwa coffee for his highly esteemed restaurant in Epcot, Chefs de France. That same year, Kahwa’s first retail cafe opened in downtown St.Pete with the goal to create an environment with personalized customer service and a community meeting place where all walks of life can come to socialize.

Today, with 14 retail locations and over 800 wholesale customers, Kahwa is dedicated to expanding its customer base while still maintaining the greatest quality of the product and an exceptional customer service experience.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Raphael: After college, I had no interest in joining the corporate world, so I started working as a barista at a local coffee shop on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. Sarah, a professional dancer and instructor at the innovative Koresh Dance Company, would often stop in the cafe on her way to work — I fell for her instantly. Each time she visited, I would make her the most beautiful heart-shaped cappuccinos. Finally, after 6 months and many heart pours, she gave me a chance. This is really where the Kahwa story began.

Over the next several years, I refined the craft of coffee roasting and advanced in the ranks to become a wholesale sales executive. Meanwhile, Sarah’s career was following a similar upward trajectory — she was instrumental in the expansion of the dance school and was named Company and Tour Manager; having honed her business and marketing skills while creating their national tour program. The one constant was our love of coffee and the craft of roasting.

In 2005, Sarah and I decided to make our passion our business. We relocated to her hometown of St. Petersburg, FL where we created Kahwa Coffee.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

It was very challenging for us to launch a coffee brand in an environment filled with corporate restaurants. The Florida market was far behind other markets when it came to caring about the quality of their coffee and supporting a local coffee roaster. We had yet to build our brand identity and many people were not sure if we were still going to be around in a year. Additionally, trust was really hard to gain on the wholesale side of the business. You need to have thick skin to keep hearing “no” over and over again.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

We always believed in ourselves and our products. We knew we had something special from the beginning. The reaction from customers trying our coffee everyday reinforced that belief. At the “grand opening” of our company, one journalist (he was the only one there) sat down with me and said, “What are you doing?!” He thought we were crazy. I told him we were building the biggest coffee company in Florida. That was our goal and we believed it. It is funny when I see him around now — 14 years later, he always reminds me of that day. And I always jokingly say “I told you so!!!”

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Things are going really well. We are having tremendous success in all sectors: retail, wholesale, grocery and e-commerce. In 2019, we expanded our operations into a new roasting facility which tripled our capacity. During the first 10 years, we learned to keep pushing forward and never give up. We understood that business is not just a today deal, but a long-term relationship with our customers. Trust is what makes your brand successful and we had to gain that trust. Owning a business is full of the highest highs and the lowest lows, we relish the highs and use the lows as a learning opportunity to not only grow ourselves but our whole company.

During the current crisis, it has been critical that we quickly pivot our focus to sustain our business and even grow into new avenues. For us, this meant speeding up our timeline of expanding our e-commerce business to weeks instead of months as well as introducing a new order-ahead to-go app that was implemented into all of our retail locations in a matter of days. We are using this time to reinvent ourselves in many aspects so when the country starts to re-open, we will be even stronger.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

First, we feel that our customer service is as important as the quality of our product. In our coffee shops, our team members are the key to our success. Not only are they the face of our company but we depend on them to deliver a consistent product and experience to every customer. To ensure this, we provide extensive training when onboarding new baristas. We take great pride in our product — our focus is blends rather than single-origin coffees, that is where art and science meet through our unique blending technique. The skill of finding the perfect mixture of sweetness, acidity, body and bitterness then expertly roasting to capture peak flavor is something we have mastered. This method produces complex flavors and allows each origin to yield its most distinct palate, which has become the Kahwa Coffee signature.

When training our baristas, I always share one particular story to prove the impact our customer service philosophy can have on customers:

Shortly after we opened our second location, a customer approached me to let me know that our coffee was amazing, but our staff was exceptional. He confided that before becoming a Kahwa fan, that he was a customer of Star**** (a.k.a.the green giant). After 10 years of stopping by the same green giant location on a daily basis, the staff would still ask for his name and order. The man decided to wise up and change his local coffee shop — he chose Kahwa. About a month after visiting his neighborhood Kahwa, not only was he greeted by name and a smile as soon as he walked through the doors but his favorite coffee beverage was waiting on the counter shortly after. We believe it’s that personal connection combined with a high-quality product that distinguishes Kahwa from other brands.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

This is a fun industry so keep on believing! While there are a lot of good coffees, there is no such thing as the perfect cup of coffee — because that means something different to each person. The key is consistency in everything you do from your roasting methods and beverages to your menus and customer service. Having high product standards is what builds trust. Never serve a stale bag of beans or mediocre latte, it’s better to throw something out and start again than to give someone a bad experience with your brand.

One of the biggest challenges for me was learning how to trust our team with the brand. In order to grow and not burn out, you need a dedicated team behind you — there’s only so much you can do by yourself. I quickly realized that in order to build trust, intensive and consistent training procedures needed to be implemented. Today, we have an amazing and successful training program with a focus to promote from within.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My biggest support has always been my wife, Sarah. I often refer to her as my boss because she is the reason why we have grown to what we are today. We make a dynamic duo as I’m usually the one who has the vision and she creates the path for that vision. Sarah is the one behind the scenes making sure we are able to realistically reach our goals. We are in a fantastic adventure together along with our 2 daughters and I would not be here without HER!!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Since Kahwa’s inception, we have always been huge supporters of giving back to our community — it’s in our DNA. When we relocated to Florida, our community welcomed us with open arms, at that time, we had a very limited budget and found that fundraisers were the best way to showcase our product while giving back. It has always been a signature for our company.

Today, we are involved in over 300 events and donations every year and are always looking for new ways to give back. In 2019, we donated all coffee proceeds from National Coffee Day to local charities focused on food insecurity, and look forward to making this an annual initiative. We teamed up with baseball star, Evan Longoria to create a signature series where all proceeds were donated to various local charities each month. Our most recent collaboration has been with Kathy Ireland who serves as our first Brand Ambassador, a percentage of all sales with this partnership will be donated to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  • Trust & Delegate- In the beginning, it was a big challenge for me to trust employees and partners with our brand. Once I built that trust, it was so much easier to delegate and work collaboratively to grow the company into what it is today.
  • It’s Not That Easy-Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my job! However, many people will approach me and say “I wish I had your job” or “It looks so easy”. But it’s not easy at all.
  • Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight-Our success has taken many years of hard work and dedication. You will not see an immediate gain, but if you have passion, dedication and the mindset that it could take a while, you are more likely to succeed.
  • Cash Flow Is Key. Your company is only strong financially if you are able to manage your cash flow well. It’s not an easy task — but a necessity.
  • Adapt-Change can be very difficult for business owners, but learning how to adapt and making necessary changes is key.
  • No Risk, No Reward

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

From day one, our vision has been to offer a gathering place for people of all races, backgrounds and political beliefs. A place to come together, peacefully debate differences and dream up solutions. Our goal is to continue to stand with our community in the fight for equality.

How can our readers follow you on social media?



Twitter: @kahwacoffee

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us

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