In recognition of owner Jacques Shalo’s Cameroonian heritage, Counter Coffee’s name has officially been changed to Kribi Coffee Air Roasters, and other big changes are coming to the pioneering coffee shop this month.
Kribi Coffee, undergoing physical renovations, will be serving coffee out of Urban Pioneer Group until July 27 as remodeling of the 7324 Madison St. coffee shop takes place.
The flow on the main floor will be improved, and downstairs there will be COVID-spaced seating, with the option to add in more furniture in the future when it’s safe to do so. The downstairs kitchen and conference room will be removed, and a space for open mic nights and live music will be created.
The bright colored artwork on the north side of the building, artwork designed by Shalo’s son Jeremiah Shalo, who combined African colors with the Italian Memphis style of design, will be continued along the west side of the building where the large mural of a woman is now.
But, an art lover, Shalo refuses to paint over the mural. He’s looking for a new home for it and plans to remove the painted boards and store them until he finds someone interested in reassembling and displaying the mural.
Shalo’s also commissioned Noora Patrick, a Cameroonian artist, to create custom works for Kribi Coffee, and the plan is to work with other Black artists in the future.
Once business reopens in the renovated space, Shalo will offer new and innovative food and drink creations, including coffee-based cocktails and rare beer and wine.
“We’ll have beers you can’t find anywhere else on Madison Street,” Shalo said.
He’s brought in a French pastry chef to help design the new menu, which will include eclectic snacks from other cultures.
And he’s planning to work with director of operations and “coffee guru” Amir Semsarieh, of Shalo’s Java Master International air roasting business, to come up with a Forest Park Blend.
Shalo made news just a few weeks ago when he began selling a Black Lives Matter Blend, created by Semsarieh. The bag was designed by Shalo’s son Jeremiah, who took inspiration from a collection of Cameroonian masks and historic Liberian stamps with ties to Shalo’s family’s Bamileke tribe.
The coffee shop’s new name pays homage to Kribi, a resort town and port in the south province of Cameroon. According to Shalo, it is known for white sand beaches, and it’s the perfect way to honor his family’s heritage, to incorporate their story into his business.
In the early 1900s, Shalo’s parents and grandparents left their inland village in the Bamileke region of western Cameroon, moving to coastal towns to escape capture and enslavement. They bought land where they cultivated and farmed cocoa and coffee. Shalo was born shortly after this.
Growing up on a coffee farm, he helped pick the green coffee beans. But he never tasted coffee until he was 16 or 17, just two years or so before coming to the United States.
“There’s an injustice around coffee,” Shalo said. “Many of the people who grow and pick the beans have no opportunity to taste or drink the finished product.”
Shalo’s spoken to the Review about the value chain of coffee before, and it’s something he’s intimately familiar with: the entire process that takes us from the farm where the coffee beans are grown to a freshly brewed cup in a coffee shop.
What fascinated him about the process was the fact that the farmers benefit so little financially. He said it made sense to him, though, since what we know as coffee, the richly aromatic dark beans and brew, comes from beans that don’t really have a smell or taste until they’re roasted. So the roasters see the most profit.
His vision became clear: If he could control the value chain, starting with farming the best beans possible, and roasting just before brewing the coffee, the finished product would be the best possible.
And in controlling the value chain, he could also help undo some of the injustice he’d seen in the farming of the bean. Initially, his goal was to pay farmers more. But then he thought bigger.
“My new approach is to provide access to ownership to the farmers,” said Shalo. “We’ll buy coffee from them, but also let some of the farmers have an equity stake in the operation.”
He said Kribi Coffee will focus on this farm collaboration concept, because the origin of coffee is of great importance.
“The green beans are at the heart of everything we do,” Shalo said.
Shalo’s been mentored by Zev Siegl, co-founder of Starbucks, for the past few years. He reached out to Siegl in 2017 to talk about the process of air roasting coffee and his firm Java Master International, which he founded about 30 years ago. The air roasters allow Shalo, and those who purchase them from him, to roast coffee in a unique way, in small batches at a time, and just prior to brewing, creating coffee that’s less bitter and much fresher.
Siegl got in touch with Shalo, taking him on as a mentee, and encouraged him to get into the coffee shop business. Shalo had been researching and studying how his roasters changed the coffee-drinking and selling experience of others who purchased them, such as Whole Foods. But to really experience it and understand it, opening up his own shop was the next step.
He bought Counter Coffee from Jayne Ertel and Heidi Vance, owners of Team Blonde, in January 2019. He kept the name, he said, “for the community,” but he knew at some point he’d change it.
Shalo said working with the village administration throughout the process of planning the renovation has been great. “They’ve been helpful and accommodating,” he said. As for the customers? “I am grateful. I cannot say enough good about them.”