If you’ve ever seen a bag of Dazbog coffee, you know it has an unusual look: a bright red package with bold black lettering enticing you to “enjoy,” in Russian. The average American consumer probably doesn’t know that’s what the package says, and that’s exactly the point.
“We want to let people ask us what it is, because it’s a great way to get to know our customers, and for them to get to know us,” says Dazbog co-founder Anatoly Yuffa, who goes by Tony. “We want the company to be culturally in touch with where we’re from. We want to tell our story through our brand.”
It’s a story that spans decades and continents, and combines the richness of a complex history with the richness inherent in a quality cup of coffee. Brothers Leonid and Anatoly Yuffa came to America from the Soviet Union in 1979 with their family in search of a better life, and now are the heads of one of the most sought after coffee brands in the country.
The brothers have not forgotten their Russian heritage. “The roots in Russia play many different roles. We use our brand, and the packaging on the brand, as a canvas to tell our story,” Leonid, who goes by Leo, tells us. “The Russian culture of hard work translates to the product line, and consumers have really taken to it.” The name Dazbog itself is an example of one of the many conversation starters in the business; it is a common Russian expression that means “good fortune.”
What sets Dazbog apart from other coffee brands, besides their bold Russian-inspired branding, is the extensive research and efforts made into enhancing the quality of their coffee. Leo provides the expert taste buds in the partnership. In 1992 he graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder and decided he wanted to open a coffee shop. “I did way more research than I probably should have,” he admits with a smile. Soon, he discovered not only that he had a great palette for beverages but that he stumbled upon the very infancy of the gourmet coffee trend.
He teamed up with his brother Tony and by 1996 they opened for business. As they worked on getting the business off the ground, the brothers focused mainly on making a great product. The creation of a superior product begins with taking great care in choosing the coffee beans. “A lot of it is trial and error,” says Leo. “There are a lot of different farms around the world. We get samples on a monthly, weekly and sometimes daily basis. We try out the coffee, and if it is something we absolutely love, we buy it.”
So what do they look for when trying out new coffees?
“We want the coffee to represent the origin of the land,” Leo says. “We want to make sure the Sumatran really represents the best of Sumatra. Whether it’s the body of a Sumatran, the earthiness of it, or the sweetness of a Costa Rican, the brightness of a Guatemalan, we want to make sure those characteristics are brought out.”
After they decide to start carrying a particular product, the beans arrive at their roasting facility, still green, in large burlap sacks. Once the company has an order for a particular blend, the beans are then roasted and immediately shipped out to ensure freshness.
The focus on quality continues with the roasting process. All of Dazbog’s beans are roasted in rare brick Italian coffee roasters. “The reason the brick is important,” Leo explains, “is that it gives the best quality roast. Not only does it roast from the flame underneath, but the hot brick on top roasts as well, which makes for an even roast.” This, they tell us, is what makes Dazbog different from other coffee roasters. “Our roasting style tends to bring out the sugars in coffee. One of the biggest comments about our coffee is that they don’t need cream and sugar because it’s got a lot of flavor and a lot of the nuances, but not a lot of bitterness.”
In addition to specialty coffee, Dazbog has also introduced a selection of high-quality tea. The process they use to source their tea is similar to the way they source their coffee. They look for the exacting qualities of each tea variety: if it is an herbal tea, the taste should be delicate, while a black tea should be bold.
With a clear passion for coffee, Leonid and Tony set out to find customers who shared this enthusiasm. “We went door to door,” Tony says. “We found restaurants, cafes, or people on the street that just loved the coffee, and had a similar passion the way we do.” Soon they gathered a band of loyal customers, restaurants and grocery stores to carry their coffee. When others began seeing those first happy customers, Dazbog began receiving phone calls from potential buyers.
In 2007 the brothers decided to open up a café, where they could serve their collee while expanding the public’s knowledge of the Dazbog brand at the same time. At their store locations, decorated with more of their signature bold red paint and black Cyrillic messages, customers can buy coffee by the cup or in bags to take home and brew themselves. They can also purchase Dazbog teas, espresso drinks and smoothies.
Since then Dazbog has expanded to include franchised store locations with 30 stores across three states. “Having stores has been an integral part of our success,” Leo explains. Not only from in-store sales, but from the invaluable market research that the forum provides. “How do people like to have coffee? What are they asking for? What are the new coffees and new trends?”
Dazbog offers a variety of blends, known for their fun names that play on Russian themes. “We engage people to have a relationship with us. If it’s a KGBlend, people know that’s what they drink. They get to know the blend,” says Tony. “We have a lot of fun with the names, like Russian Roulette, White Nights Espresso, the famous KGBlend, and people associate with that. We want people to relate, to us, to our brand, and enjoy their coffee while their doing it,” says Leo. “We want people to know who we are and where we’re from. Our first and foremost goal is to make everybody happy,” Tony puts in. “And we do it with a cup of coffee. It makes everything we do worthwhile.”
With such growth and success over the years, the most logical questions now is: what’s next for Dazbog?
“Growth is dictated by the market,” Leo tells us. They see restaurant sales, along with specialty stores and wholesale ventures as the next big step. “The last thing people do in a restaurant after a meal is have a cup of coffee. And it is very important that that cup of coffee is a final touch to the meal. It has to be something people can remember,”
says Tony. They see restaurant sales as a great opportunity for cross-promotion. Firmly believing in their product, they promise to deliver a lasting impression on diners as they take their last sips of Dazbog coffee. “Set yourself apart,” says Leo. “Do business with someone that is not a conglomerate, that’s independently owned, that cares about the quality of the product, and cares about the consumer that’s consuming it. It’s all about the cup.”
Click here to check out a video interview with Leo and Tony!