Coffee shop entrepreneurs say yemen is not just a war.
The 35-year-old, who works at a new yemeni coffee shop in dearborn, never imagined he would enter the coffee business. Ibrahim Alhasbani was born in yemen and grew up on a coffee farm outside the capital Sana’a.
“I have enough coffee in my life,” Mr. Alhasbari said. “But when I moved to the United States, the problem came back to my hometown, and I told myself that I had a chance to prove that yemeni coffee was really good, and that yemen was not just about violence and war.”
A few months ago, he opened his home in dearborn, a city of highly concentrated arabs and arab-americans.
Customer Alhasbani’s first known coffees are said to have been shipped around the world from the port of Mokha in the 15th century.
Yemen is known for its strong floral aromas and spices. To me, the cup is like masala, with lots of nutmeg and ginger, and a touch of cinnamon. He charges about $5 a can, compared with some companies that sell a pound of yemeni coffee for $250. He can do this because he is closely connected with the family business in his hometown.
“100 percent of these beans come from my farm,” Mr. Albany said happily.
Today, he sees himself as a coffee entrepreneur and cultural ambassador. But that’s not what he wanted. After completing his business studies at Sana ‘a university, he worked for yemen airlines, where his father spent his entire career. Tired of his desk life, he started working for Red Bull, an energy drinks company that had just entered yemen. Soon after, he traveled to the Middle East and Europe and won praise from his marketing brains.
“I’m doing very well and yemenis think I’m the founder of red bull,” he said with a laugh.
With the money he earns, he and a business partner have opened Amore, a cafe in Sana’a that serves Italian coffee, such as cappuccino. He also launched two restaurants and plans to open more. But as tensions in yemen escalated after the Arab spring of 2011, the plan went off the rails.
“The bomb was near our house, and my brother was in a coma for 30 days, and he tried to escape it, but he failed, and now he’s blind,” Mr. Albany said, his voice fading away.
“Yes,” he said. “Idiot, lost person, what can we say?”
Even before yemen’s civil war broke out in 2015, yemen was one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2012, the aid group reported that 44% of the population was malnourished. Today, the fighting is between those loyal to yemen’s President abdu rabbu mansour hadi and the houthi rebels. According to the United Nations, 18 million people in yemen now need humanitarian aid, and more than 7,600 have been killed since the start of the civil war.
Worried about his future, Mr. Al-hasbani decided to leave yemen in 2011. Through his work at red bull, he had many contacts in the United States and visited New York City on a tourist visa. He extended his travel visa and soon fell in love with the American woman he married. He started working for budweiser, and after his unsuccessful marriage, Albany moved to dearborn, where he married an American woman from yemen.
“I love it, it’s a perfect combination of western and Arab culture,” he said.
However, because President trump’s travel ban targets countries such as yemen, his brother and mother cannot visit. He has not seen his family in yemen for six years.
“I don’t like talking politics,” he said. Still, the conversation is growing.
His main expenses are fixed – his rent, and the credit card debt he incurred when he opened the cafe. These are fixed, predictable costs. But he worries about the cost of importing coffee from yemen.
His brother runs the family farm, but finding reliable delivery services in the country is increasingly difficult given the violence there. Once his coffee reaches yemen’s ports, his team fills it with as many beans as possible. A container can hold about six tons of coffee beans. It takes about 40 days to get to the United States and costs about $4,000. On the day of my visit, Mr. Hasbani was frantically trying to figure out why his containers were stuck in American ports, the price he was paying.
It is difficult to verify his claims, or it may be that all imports are subject to additional screening. But he hopes he can bring his brother and his yemeni friends to the United States to help his new cafe. He also wants to set up a fund to help young yemeni children, so they will not be drawn to extremist groups there. But he has another incentive to start his own coffee shop, promoting American coffee to American coffee.
Yemeni coffee is really great, “he said. “You only try once, and you say, ‘better than pumpkin spice. “”