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ROASTER'S FIRST RETAIL ROOST

Kahwa will open a shop at 475 Third St. N after wholesale prosperity.

From its quiet Childs Park building, a coffee company has been making waves in the gourmet community and is now poised to make its presence felt downtown.

"We've been planning this for a while but were delayed by our wholesale business," said Raphael Perrier, part owner of Kahwa, a coffee roaster that will open its first retail outlet at 475 Third St. N in March. "We had a pretty big year last year."

Perrier and his partners opened in 2006 with no accounts but some contacts from Philadelphia, where they had lived, owned a restaurant and worked for another coffee company.

In short order, they signed chef Michel Richard and his Washington, D.C., restaurant, Citronelle. Since then, they've added chef Paul Bocuse and his Chefs de France at Epcot, and chef Joel Antunes and his Atlanta restaurant, Joel.

In addition, Perrier added an account with E-brands, serving restaurant chains Timpano and Aquaknox. The business now has about 200 accounts, including many closer to home, like the Don CeSar, Ceviche, Le Bouchon and Massimo's.

"We were trying to create a coffee company from St. Pete that is high end," Perrier said. "It was a tough first six months, but we got some good names and it gave us a good launch."

Now that Kahwa, from the Ethiopian word for coffee, has its solid wholesale base, the company is ready for its first retail outlet, which is in a corner space at the base of architect Tim Clemmons' condo building 475.

Clemmons sold them the space as a retail condo and is hoping the shop will boost lagging sales in his building.

"I hoped it would be something like a coffee shop, but in a way, I'm kind of proud they thought this was a good location for their first shop," Clemmons said.

"They say curb appeal is what matters, so this is the urban version of the nice suburban lawn."

The building borders the affluent Old Northeast neighborhood but is near the downtown core as well, so Perrier is hoping to draw from all sides. He said the shop will be subdued, with a European look and feel that may include some outdoor seating.

"It will be for the coffee aficionado, just coffee and pastries, no food," said Perrier, who is from France, as are partners Catherine and Jean Thibault. The final partner is Perrier's wife, Sarah (nee Irwin), who is from St. Petersburg.

Though the shop will be within a few blocks of two Starbucks outlets, that may not be a hindrance. Recent studies have shown that independent coffee shops can compete with the Seattle-based chain.

Some shops have taken to deliberately settling near Starbucks.

"A few years ago, for a lot of people, all they knew about coffee was Starbucks," Perrier said. "We're going to try to distinguish ourselves by our quality."

The company operates from a nondescript warehouse space at 4125 Eighth Ave. S, importing raw beans from India and the Americas. Using Brazilian coffee as its base, Kahwa makes blends for espresso, drip coffee, decaffeinated coffees and a lighter drip.

The coffee shop will emphasize the coffee and the service, Perrier said. Baristas will make specialty coffee drinks but will also add decorative flourishes, such as designs in milk foam atop the drinks.

"It will be simple but classy," he said.

Paul Swider can be reached at pswider@sptimes.com or 892-2271.

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For more information, go to kahwacoffee.com.

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