When husband and wife Raphael and Sarah Perrier moved from Philadelphia to St. Petersburg, Sarah’s home town, Raphael already had 17 years in the coffee biz on his resume. In coming here, the couple knew they wanted to make Kahwa (the Arabic word for coffee) a household brand in the area.
“We wanted to keep it simple,” Sarah says, surrounded by bags of bright green coffee beans awaiting a roast. “We wanted to create a welcoming feeling and good coffee.”
Wholesale was part of the business plan immediately. With a strong background in roasting, Raphael started toying with more exotic blends including beans from India, Indonesia and Egypt.
“I worked for three months coming up with coffees we never thought we could or would be able to to roast,” Raphael says.
But today, Kahwa is known in the community (especially St. Petersburg) for being a neighborhood coffee hub. Since the opening of the first store in 2008, Kahwa North in downtown St. Petersburg, the enterprise has grown exponentially.
Coffee is roasted on a brown and yellow Ambex machine inside a massive warehouse on 44th Avenue North in St. Petersburg. On a typical day, they roast more than 1,000 pounds of coffee.
Along with multiple locations, Kahwa provides thousands of pounds of coffee wholesale to restaurants, hotels, and attractions around the country (including Disney’s Epcot).
Inside Kahwa’s central command bunker is a model training facility, which looks identical to its St. Petersburg café setups, concrete bar and all.
Best of the Bay-winning barista Jess Gadreau trains new staff there. By the time she finishes with a new barista, they’re well-versed in “the art of latte,” she says.
She brandishes her steam burns like proud battle scars after more than 14 years in the business.
“There are no newbies in the store,” Raphael says. “Since the training facility has opened we haven’t had to let anyone go.”
And as the Perriers open their seventh store (with eight more expected by 2015 across the state), that training has made a big difference.
“Florida has the market for coffee,” Raphael says. “And we want Kahwa to be a meeting place for everyone.”
Kahwa Coffee, St. Petersburg: 475 Second St. N.; 204 Second Ave. S.; Bayfront Medical Center. Tampa: 400 N. Ashley Drive; 3928 Henderson Blvd.; 808 N. Franklin St., Suite 117. kahwacoffee.com.