Coffee was a regular treat at Alisa and Alicia Officer’s grandmother’s Hamlin Park house when they were growing up. Despite other adults’ gentle admonishing that coffee might stunt the twins’ growth, they kept on sneaking sips. Both point out, laughing, that they are both of above-average height.
“It wasn’t exactly sneaking,” says Alisa, “She was cognizant that some of the coffee in her cup was missing. Our grandmother did get us our own tiny mugs, and it was always more milk than coffee.” While coffee didn’t stunt the sisters’ growth, it did give them entrepreneurial direction later – their paths have always connected and they’re a seamless partnership, even finishing each other’s sentences.
Unapologetic Coffee opened in 2021 on Main Street near Utica Street, in a long storefront with an intact and original tin ceiling and big windows letting in sunlight and views of foot and car traffic. Alisa and Alicia purchased the 200-year-old wooden table that was once in another, cross-town café – Sweetness 7. “It took three people, a headache, and a U-Haul to get it in here,” says Alisa.
The business name came out of a meeting about the business’s logo incorporating a golden Jean-Michel Basquiat-inspired hand-drawn crown, and the initials UC and a cloud that both resemble a street artist tag. Alisa stated that the sisters and their business are “Unapologetically black.” “Graffiti doesn’t have to be a bad and terrible thing,” says Alicia, “we grew up deep on the East Side, graffiti is a form of expression, and Basquiat made it an artform.”
The proudly minority and women-owned company began as a small-batch roastery. “A café was not in the business plan, but one day when we had a tasting – we’d bought a sleeve of 50 paper coffee cups – and we were giving out coffee samples to family and friends,” Alisa says. “A few people from the church a few doors down came in and asked what we were doing, and then the Deacon came over and said he’d send the congregation over that Sunday to support us to buy coffee. Then the entire church flocked in.” There are peals of laughter: the in-person business of selling coffee by the cup and foil pouch had launched.
Unapologetic Coffee is a true family endeavor: Alisa and Alicia’s mom, Tracy, does the accounting, and Grandmother Mary Hall (the introducer to the joys of coffee), is the unofficial runner. “Our grandmother retired during the pandemic, and she helps us with our errands, things that need to get done. She’s paid in coffee,” says Alicia.
Coffee that is organic, and fair trade is what Unapologetic carries. “We made a commitment to support coffee companies that pay people a living wage for this back-breaking work,” says Alicia.
Alicia and Alisa both earned bachelor and master’s degrees at Canisius College and, before that, attended different high schools – Alicia went to City Honors and Alisa went to Buffalo Seminary. At Canisius Alisa studied Engineering before switching to Math and Education majors. Today she is Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Health Sciences Charter School in downtown Buffalo (she was photographed in her “We Bleed Blue” school spirit shirt), managing the master schedule for the school. She is Unapologetic Coffee COO. Alicia studied accounting and received a master’s degree in forensic accounting: she is the company’s CEO.
I Said What I Said, their most popular coffee, may be purchased at the shop, or online at their website. It’s described as “Our signature medium roast coffee. This variety is our first and most requested variety. The name is quintessential to how we grew up and how we chose to live and roast authentically, unapologetically.” Their other coffees are Flow (a Brazilian dark roast), Hustle (a lightly roasted Ethiopian bean), Hey Doc! (The sisters’ greeting to their grandfather, and their signature decaf), and Black Mixed with Black (a small batch Sumatran coffee).
“We asked ourselves ‘Why can’t we find coffee in our neighborhood,'” says Alicia, “and franchising opportunities didn’t happen because they’d say that there’s no market here on the East Side. Data points showed the same thing, that coffee isn’t marketed to black and brown people – soft drinks, and other sugar-based drinks are however.”
In 2021, the sisters won the M&T Bank Multicultural Small Business Lab at Canisius College, a program to develop ethnically and racially diverse businesses. Today Unapologetic Coffee has support from M&T Bank as well as UB Cultivator, a program for start-up businesses offering mentoring, funding, and access to a cohort of other local start-ups.
“Next steps will be to expand on our vision,” says Alicia, “a second location, and expanding our food menu. We’ll continue to sell heavily online and centralize our Main Street location as a café and eatery. We allow free events in our space, do private events here: we want to be a hub.”