Business ownership is a true love story for Sasha and Ian Fay. In 2019, the couple fell in love with Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee when they were in Jamaica for their destination wedding. A year later, they decided to bring the distinctive coffee to Connecticut and they launched their startup Ovelle Coffee.
MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Sasha to learn more about what it’s like to import coffee from another country and sell it here in Connecticut.
NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial?
SASHA FAY: Yes, I’ve always been entrepreneurial. It feeds my spirit and soul. My dad is an entrepreneur. He’s owned a tailor shop and a convenience store. So, I had that entrepreneurial spirit instilled in me. Over the years, I’ve been in different roles and in different ventures to try and figure out what I’m passionate about.
NAN: And you landed on coffee. How did you and your husband develop the become concept?
SASHA: I’m of Jamaican heritage. I was born here in the United States but both my parents were born in Jamaica. Ian and I took a tour of a local coffee farm and fell in love with the rich chocolatey taste, blackberry notes, and floral aroma. Although I’m of Jamaican descent, I didn’t know about Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee. It was a surprise to discover it while we were there for our wedding. When we came back, we thought we should see if our family and friends in Connecticut would like to try it.
We connected with the local farmers in Jamaica and we were able to secure some coffee. Then we started offering it to family and friends to see whether they liked it or not. We got some great reviews from them and they encouraged us to start the business.
NAN: How did you start importing the coffee beans to sell in the community?
SASHA: With our direct trade partnership, we went beyond fair trade and connected directly to the farmer. We don’t use any middleman. That allows us to provide these farmers with a quality wage, which then enables them to reinvest into their farms, pay their employees fairly, and provide us with a high-quality cup of coffee.
We import the coffee directly from Jamaica to the United States through our license. Once we’ve imported the coffee here, we get it out to the community through local farmer’s markets, vendor shows, collaborative events, and some private events. Ideally, we want people to taste it and see if they like it as much as we do.
People can also purchase the coffee directly from our website. Eventually, we’d like to get into a warehouse space so we can branch out a little more. But for now, we’re online-based.
NAN: How have you been marketing and building clientele?
SASHA: It’s almost guerilla-style marketing. We utilize our connections and the people we know. Word-of-mouth is a big part of our sales. We also send out email campaigns. If we attend vendor shows, we’ll request consent of attendees to receive notifications and emails, that’s how we’ve developed our mailing list.
NAN: Family businesses or those formed by life partners or close friends can be challenging. How do you set boundaries to ensure you’re working well together?
SASHA: The pandemic helped us figure out our strengths and weaknesses. We migrated that over to our business as well. We use a lot of open communication and focus on developing strategies to highlight our strengths and mitigate our weaknesses, in turn we developed separate roles to best suit each of our strengths and weaknesses. That’s helped us continue to be creative and innovative while accomplishing tasks efficiently.
NAN: I find it so interesting that you offer small business online courses through your website. Tell us more.
SASHA: In starting our own business, we understand it can be difficult, so we wanted to help other entrepreneurs, which led us to create pin-pointed courses about how to create an LLC. We’ve been working on some other courses, too, like how to apply for small business grants.
When we started out, we didn’t know who to reach out to or how to create an LLC. We want to assist other entrepreneurs to have an opportunity to find out where to go, what to do, or where to start.
NAN: What does the future look like for Ovelle Coffee?
SASHA: We’re currently focused on building a quality relationship with our customers. That’s our main goal. Our two-year plan involves letting our customers get to know who we are and getting to know our customers. We’re passionate about making those connections and letting people know the value of our coffee and the impact they have from buying with us.
Our customers’ purchases provide sustainability for Jamaican farmers, who are really being hit hard because of both COVID-19 and mandatory lockdowns. We want to reinvest in those farmers and help them provide sustainability for their farms. That’s a huge priority.
As far as expansion goes, our five-year plan would include a warehouse space and providing coffee to wholesale accounts, while still serving our customers online. This would be the ideal model for Ovelle Coffee but we are always open and looking for the next opportunity to serve our customers.