ST. PETERSBURG — It’s been Kahwa Coffee co-founders Raphael Perrier’s goal from the start.
The chain of Tampa Bay coffee shops he opened with his wife has its roots in wholesale — so he dreamed of one day winning over a big distributor to get inside Publix stores.
Now the coffee roasters are preparing to make it a reality.
Tampa Bay’s popular Kahwa Coffee could be served in up to 130 Publix store cafes across the southeast by the end of the year, Raphael and Sarah Perrier announced on Wednesday. The first two locations, in Bradenton and Winter Park, have been operating for a few weeks already under a pilot program.
"This has been a long time in the making," Raphael Perrier told the Tampa Bay Times. "The idea is that this is a test program… If we are doing well, then they are going to roll out more."
The Kahwa drinks are being offered inside existing in-store bakery and cafes, according to Publix spokesman Brian West. It’s a different model than the in-store Starbucks that are being tested in several Publix stores already, like one location in Tampa on Gandy Boulevard.
But architect and retail expert Kevin Kelley thinks the Kahwa trial could edge out Publix’s Starbucks test.
"What hurts when you’re putting a Starbucks in is that it doesn’t give your business anything proprietary," Kelley said. "They’re kind of like McDonald’s. People want to support local."
The Kahwa-serving cafes will be run by Publix employees, but Perrier said there are Kahwa blends, equipment and training to ensure employees know how to make its signature coffees and lattes.
Publix confirmed that a Virginia store would be next in line to begin serving the coffee. Stores as far away as Tennessee and North Carolina and as close as Tampa and Miami could be next, Perrier said.
It would be a major sales expansion for the coffee company, which opened a sole St. Petersburg location a decade ago. Now there are 12 cafes between Tampa Bay, Bradenton and Sarasota. Miami debuted its first Kahwa in March and cafes are planned inside the International Mall in Tampa and the University Town Center in Sarasota.
Perrier said he was "over the moon" that Publix decided to work with a Florida roaster.
"I love that Publix went for a local story," he said.
He knows customers love to sip coffee while they shop — Target is known for having Starbucks locations inside and Lucky’s Market has a full coffee bar and cafe. In western New York, the grocery chain Tops Friendly Markets offers local-favorite Tim Hortons.
Kelley said Kahwa could give Publix a trendy, fashion-forward appeal even to customers in other states unfamiliar with the brand.
Already, Kahwa distributes its coffee in the wholesale market to more than 800 hotels and other businesses operating across the country.
The new Publix locations will also sell Kahwa k-cup brews and coffee beans.
The Perriers founded Kahwa in 2006 as a coffee distributor and wholesaler. Two years later, the couple opened the first Kahwa cafe on Second Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg. Now its trademark yellow cups have become a staple among many Tampa Bay coffee drinkers.
West said there is no promise a specified number of stores will begin serving Kahwa coffee, but said the brand "has potential to grow."
"People like Kahwa Coffee," he added, "and anytime we’ve got an opportunity to showcase a local supplier, as long as their products are reaching our quality standards, we try to do that."
Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.