A few years ago, twin sisters Alisa and Alicia Officer tossed around the idea of opening a café — but maybe when they retire, or at least when they were all set financially. You know, someday.
Then COVID hit and like many people, the sisters reassessed their priorities. Maybe, they thought, there isn’t time to slowplay their dream of having a café.
While COVID may have inspired the Officer sisters to accelerate their plans, the pandemic also made opening a brick-and-mortar kind of a bad idea. The company pushed hard into roasting its own coffee beans and establishing a wholesale coffee operation. Something a bit more pandemic proof.
Alisa Officer says, as a Black woman, researching the coffee roasting and café industries became an eye-opener. Ultimately, the prospect of owning a coffee company took on a lot more meaning.
“As we started to look at the bean-to-cup experience, it became very evident that minorities are underrepresented in coffee,” she says. “So when we decided to do this, we decided to stay true to who we are. Our social and community outreach had to match our mission and vision.”
Supporting proper representation and the community might seem like noble intentions that are easy to get behind, but the Officer sisters came up against a lot of cultural roadblocks. For example, their graffiti-style company logo was described to them as “very urban”— implying that it might be bad for business.
“One day out of frustration, I just blurted out that I’m (proud to be) unapologetically Black,” she says. “My sister just laughed and said — that’s the name of the company!”
The main focus of the company is still roasting beans, but the sisters have been opening their doors — located at Main and Utica streets in Buffalo — for limited hours. The fledgling café currently offers coffee ($2), café au lait ($3), hot chocolate ($3) and an array of pastries ($3.50). It might smell of roasting coffee and there might not be any “baristas” on staff at the moment, but providing a full-on café experience isn’t the point. It’s about giving people who live east of Main Street a calm space to relax or work.
“When we were at the height of COVID, I started to recognize the disparity between people who could easily go somewhere to get work done on a computer or just get out of the house, and people who couldn’t,” she says. “In Buffalo’s East Side, there’s no Starbucks, there’s no Tim Hortons.”
At Unapologetic Coffee, support goes beyond the neighborhood, beyond the East Side. In case you didn’t know, coffee mostly comes from developing, tropical countries. The value of the international coffee market is more than $460 billion, but it’s safe to say profits aren’t shared equally up and down the supply chain.
For the Officer sisters, sourcing certified Fair Trade coffee is an important part of their company mission.
“At the end of the day, we want farmers that are treated well, eat well, and can afford to live off of working one job,” Alisa says. “There are definitely cheaper sources of beans. However, we took a hard look at ourselves, who we are, and our own privileges.”
There are plans to expand offerings in the near future, with the goal of opening a grab-and-go station for sandwiches and similar café offerings. But regardless of how Unapologetic expands, Alisa says the company will prioritize small business and sustainability moving forward.
Hours at time of publishing (Subject to change): Tuesday 5 p.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday to Friday CLOSED
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