By: Christine Soussa
What is about coffee (Soorj) that arouses the senses? We had the opportunity to interview Hrag Kalebjian of Henry’s House of Coffee, who believes that coffee isn’t simply coffee, it’s a beautiful braid of culture and experience that binds us all together.
For the Kalebjian Family, Coffee unites generations. Their story starts in the 1940s by Hrag’s grandfather, Bogos Kalebjian, in Lebanon. He had a bakery in Beirut and started to offer a cup of coffee as a marketing strategy to attract clients. He would roast, grind and brew the coffee on a pan and lovingly offer it to his customers. As the business grew, Bogos’ son, Hrag’s father, Henry started to help, his job was to roast coffee. He tells stories about how you know an expert coffee roaster when you see one because their fingers are burned.
When Henry was about 20 years old, the family escaped the Civil War in Lebanon and came to America, where they settled in California. Henry started to work for a company. After years in corporate, he got laid off and met with a friend Antranig Devletian who wanted to sell his business, a mini international market. Hrag says, “my Dad bought the business and started had a market plus fresh coffee, this became the seed that grew to be Henry’s House of Coffee.” When Starbucks started to grow, they decided to strategically pivot the business to only focus on coffee, with a niche on importing specialty coffee.
Hrag shares, “As a kid, I wanted nothing to do with the family business. Every Saturday I would go help and I saw it more as a nuisance than a business that binds us all.” So, after graduating college, Hrag worked in Corporate Finance. Then, he started to feel drawn back to his roots in coffee to honor their family heritage. Hrag says, “Coffee while it’s international in popularity, it’s also very personal, everyone enjoys their coffee differently, so sharing a coffee creates a unique bond where you can create a connection while celebrating your individuality.” He sites Armenian coffee as an example, in Lebanon they like their Armenian coffee dark, Persian Armenians prefer it sour. How one enjoys their Armenian coffee is how it was passed down from generation to generation. More broadly, in all settings, everyone has a preference when it comes to their coffee cup. No two cups of coffee are ever alike.
For the Kalebjian Family coffee is a family affair, and Hrag encourages his children to participate in the business. This enrichment exposes them to all aspects of business from product quality to customer service and how companies must constantly innovate to remain relevant and grow. For Henry’s House of Coffee this includes setting up an eCommerce business as a way to establish another form of revenue and connect with customers and the Armenian diaspora. Hrag shares the story of customer feedback they got online from a client who enjoys their Armenian coffee with her 92-year-old Mother and how enjoying the coffee together is a tradition for them.
Visit www.henryshouseofcoffee.com and make enjoying their specialty coffees part of your tradition.
About AIWA-SF: The Armenian International Women’s Association is a dynamic global 501(c)3 dedicated to empowerment, education and enrichment. Through many projects and initiatives, AIWA is dedicated to inspiring, empowering and connecting Armenian women worldwide.
AIWA-SF is an affiliate chapter of the Armenian International Women’s Association, the EIN #: 04-3113182. Donations marked for AIWA-SF are routed to the affiliate chapter.