HOW JUAN ARROYAVE, FOUNDER OF KIKOS COFFEE AND TEA, IS FIGHTING AGAINST STEREOTYPES AND INEQUALITY.
“We wanted to bring real Colombian coffee and really change the perception of the Colombians. It’s changing, but we’re not there yet,” Juan Arroyave, owner of Kikos Coffee and Tea reflected.
After settling in Boston three years ago, Juan, who grew up close to his family’s coffee farm in Colombia , noticed a distinct lack of good Colombian coffee. It was time to get to work. He started Kikos Coffee, his MWBE- and LGBTQ- certified business, which sells whole Colombian coffee beans grown at his family’s farm to restaurants and bakeries in the area.
The mission is not just to create good coffee, but to create a product reflective of Colombian culture and diversity. When the company first launched, Juan sold only one whole bean coffee roast, but the company was quickly expanding when COVID hit.
“We lost all the business because of COVID,” Juan said. “It was a tough year. Cost of goods went up, shipping costs went up, marketing prices went up, sales went down, clients closed their businesses. These are just some of the challenging situations we faced.”
A COMMUNITY RESPONSE
Juan leaned in. He turned to his community. His business has roots in the LGBTQ+ business community in Boston and nationally, and it was this community that helped him navigate COVID challenges while also staying true to his goal of authenticity and diversity. While there have been struggles for Juan as part of the LGBTQ+ community, with one major eCommerce platform blocking his account for that reason, he says that the interactions based on his business’s involvement in the community have been more positive than negative. The community is a large part of him and the brand, and he stands by that. “No matter where you are from, or your sexuality, or anything, you have to be treated equally. We are human beings,” Juan said.
His connections in Boston also led him to Ascendus. He worked with Ascendus to first receive a SBA loan, and then, a low-interest COVID Relief Loan through the Wells Fargo Open for Business program. When speaking about his loan consultant, who he worked with closely, he said, “She understands small businesses, where we are coming from, the struggles. She understands everything.”
The funds received through Ascendus are being used for advertising to help the expansion of the brand’s new products. Juan jokes that to respond to COVID he’s had to pivot “every two months.” His biggest shift was to go directly to consumers with his coffee. His new product line included cans of coffee and tea – that sold out in the first production.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
His plan for the future is to get into one of the major chain stores, which will allow him to hire more people, expand the product line, and most importantly for Juan, give back to his community here and in Colombia. Over the course of the pandemic, Kikos donated over 900 lbs. of coffee to various charities providing COVID response to the community.
The company has also partnered with Impact-U, a foundation that helps to educate vulnerable Colombian communities. Juan is an active volunteer and has committed the company to provide financial support to organizations that align with Kikos’s philosophy of equality, diversity, and building a sustainable society.
This is one of the reasons Juan is dedicated to using Fair Trade ingredients, saying: “We support our communities as we grow because we recognize we must grow together to build a sustainable society.” This means that everyone in the supply chain is paid and treated fairly.
Strong values like diversity and equality are not only changing perceptions, but they’re giving customers in Boston more than just a great cup of coffee to stand behind.
“I am very grateful for finding Ascendus in my path. As a small, minority, diverse and fairly new business it was hard for us to find funding to survive the pandemic. Since day one, all team members in Ascendus helped us improve our business. When the pandemic started and we lost the majority of our clients we didn’t qualify for grants or loans as we were very small. Ascendus believed in us and gave us a grant for us to invest in our company and help us pivot our business. Our loan consultant was an important part of this and helped us with the application. The relationship didn’t stop there. They were always in touch and asked us about ways that they could help. We started to grow and had many plans,, but we were still too small to get financing through loans through banks. Once again Ascendus approved a loan to help us keep investing in our business and increasing our portfolio. Because of this we were able to rebrand and launch 3 new products. We started to see higher sales due to this investment.
In addition to different blogs that they wrote about Kikos, they launched a program to highlight clients called “This Way Up: Stories of Ascension”. They visited our location with a film crew and created an AMAZING video telling our story and how we have evolved. This helped our business gain new clients as well.
Thank you Ascendus team for going the extra mile and REALLY supporting small businesses and minorities. Thank you for being there for me and Kikos Coffee & Tea.”