After nearly 18 years, the wait is over; St. Petersburg residents living on the city’s southside have a Kahwa Coffee shop.
Chris Steinocher, president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, noted at Tuesday morning’s ribbon-cutting ceremony that the home-grown company has become “our brand.” The latest location, at 400 45th Ave. S., represents Kahwa’s 15th throughout the region.
While Kahwa boasts stores from Sarasota to Hillsborough Counties, the now-open Coquina Key location marks the company’s first foray into South St. Petersburg. After the event, owner Sarah Perrier said she believes the new coffee shop and drive-through will help spur much-needed growth in the surrounding community.
“We try to go into areas where we see a void,” Perrier said. “We’ve seen a lot of people in the area that want a coffee shop – they want to add more life to the area. Hopefully, we’re the start of something bigger.”
The location is just across the street from the dilapidated former Coquina Key Shopping Plaza. Real estate firm Stoneweg will begin redeveloping the 110,500-square-foot property by the end of the year.
The firm plans to build a seven-story apartment building and a new retail plaza on the site. Perrier owns the coffee chain with her husband, Raphael, and they expect new development to continue expanding south from downtown.
Steinocher credited the couple for helping fuel the city’s growth. He said entrepreneurs like the Perriers take vacant properties – a “missing tooth” in a community’s “beautiful smile” – and hire people to build something of value.
He added that those contractors then spend their money in the city and said the coffee shop employs about 15 workers. Sarah Perrier noted they all live in the neighborhood.
“There’s nothing wrong with other coffees,” Steinocher said. “But it’s about the people behind that brand and the investments they continue to make.”
He relayed how the Perriers support the chamber, local charities and the 1 Million Cups entrepreneurial program. Specially adorned cups have raised money for the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance.
Conversely, Ralphael credited local leaders for supporting Kahwa Coffee’s growth. “It’s great to have the community behind us,” he added.
“It’s kept us going for 17 years now. There’s been ups and downs and challenges – you fight for it every day. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Sarah, a Gibbs High School graduate, expressed her excitement to return to the area. She called the new location the “perfect spot” to “breathe life” into a neighborhood.
Mayor Ken Welch explained that his political career intrinsically intertwined with the St. Petersburg-based roaster. As a former commissioner headquartered in Clearwater and representing southern Pinellas County, he realized the need for an office closer to his constituents.
He found a solution at the Kahwa location on 2nd Avenue South, which became known as his St. Petersburg office. Welch said the company also sponsors his “Coffee with Ken” community engagement events and announced that the Tuesday ribbon-cutting coincided with his birthday.
“On behalf of the city, we’re just so thankful for your partnership, for the unique vision you have for Kahwa and everything you bring to our city,” Welch added. “And South St. Pete is growing. The secret is out.”
What’s next for Kahwa?
Raphael said he and his wife began franchising the company eight months ago, and some franchisees attended the event. He said the goal was to license five coffee shops in the first year; they sold 16.
The stakeholders are now working to identify franchise locations. There is also the long-awaited drive-through café built from repurposed shipping containers at 6623 4th St. N. Steinocher said city officials were helping the Perriers cut through red tape including permitting and public easement issues.
Sarah said construction would restart “in the next week or two,” after stalling last December. “The actual containers are already done,” she said. “We’re ready to go.”