How does a beautiful young woman from Florida fall in love with a handsome man from Morocco, without the help of the Internet, and then go on to build a successful coffee roasting company together?
Nessim Bohbot grew up in Morocco and was educated in the French educational system. In the early 1970s, his wanderlust and interest in Israel (he is Jewish) led him to a kibbutz (a collective, communal farm) where he worked in a multitude of jobs.
“The kibbutzes,” Nessim says, “were filled with highly educated interesting people. We would work very hard during the day and then have these lively intense conversations at night. I was drawn to this.” In order to communicate, however, Nessim, who already spoke French and Arabic, needed to learn Hebrew.
In those days, the Israeli kibbutzes attracted travelers from all over the world. Some would just pass through, others would stay and work for months or years. Deborah Bohbot grew up in Florida and was something of a free spirit. She was working as an audiologist at the University of Minnesota when she decided to take some time off and travel abroad for a year.
On her travels she happened to visit the kibbutz where Nessim was living. Deborah had just started studying Hebrew when she met Nessim, so the only way they could communicate was through this language.
They agree that while the language was an issue, it was not going to stop this romance. Nessim laughs, “Some things don’t need words to communicate.” One thing led to another and this French, Arabic, Hebrew speaking Moroccan married this free spirited traveling American on a kibbutz in Israel.
Love Affair With the North
The Bohbots moved to the United States and when they could, they would continue to travel. One of those trips brought them to the Boundary Waters, and they fell in love all over again, this time with the Northland. They decided to move to Duluth and try living here for one year. That was 29 years ago! During this time, they were frustrated with their search for a great cup of coffee. As world travelers, they had delighted in the coffee from the far reaches of the globe. Here in Minnesota, they found it difficult to find the perfect cup.
Deborah found a small home coffee roaster and gave it to Nessim for his birthday. He started roasting the beans, and they liked what they were cooking up. That got them thinking. If they had a hard time finding good coffee, others may be having the same problem.
Hits the Spot
In the late eighties, they decided to start a coffee business. After planning and research for over a year, they put together a business plan and found a small commercial coffee roaster for sale.
Alakef was born. “Alakef” is a Middle eastern slang term for “hits the spot” or “just right.” Nessim says if you look at the word “alakef” you can see “lake effect” in there.
Twenty-one years later, they are a robust company doing business all over the country and the world, located in a building they renovated eleven years ago on Superior Street.
Their company slogan is “Respect the Bean.” Their beans come from all over the world and are in the top three to five percent of all Arabica beans produced. Those beans have to pass muster with the taste testers at the company. If it doesn’t pass the test, it is sent back. If it passes the test, it is roasted by highly skilled and focused workers.
The timing has to be very precise, and it’s up to the person roasting, not a computer, to determine when the beans are ready. “Roasting is a craft—a fine art,” Deborah says with pride.
Nessim adds, “This is where the mystery happens. How does roasting coffee bring out these different subtle flavors? It’s a wonderful mystery to me.”
The Bohbots have great love and respect for the farmers who grow the coffee plants. “We visited one of our farmers and we saw he treated his plants like they were babies. The farmer bent over and spoke to the plant. ‘You don’t like the sun here do you? I will move you.’ A farmer doesn’t even see a plant produce coffee cherries (the bean is on the inside of the cherry) for three to five years. It’s very hard work for the farmer. It is a labor of love.”
For more information about Alakef, visit www.alakef.com.