La Colombe gets new investor, girds for caffeinated growth

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Owner of La Colombe Cafe, Todd Carmichael stands in his rum still room in Fishtown in Philadelphia, Pa. (MICHAEL PRONZATO / Staff Photographer)

Yogurt maestro Hamdi Ulukaya, the business brain behind Chobani Greek-style yogurt, on Monday joined local favorite La Colombe Coffee Roasters as investor and majority owner.

Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani, said he came to know La Colombe founders Todd Carmichael and JP Iberti when he was looking for a coffee roaster for Chobani cafés.

"It would be hard to describe how happy I am with Hamdi on board," said Carmichael, who will stay on as La Colombe CEO. "I've been one of the more fortunate people on Earth and this one adds frosting on it."

"Sometimes amazing things happen over coffee, and meeting Todd and JP was one of them," Ulukaya added in a release. "I believe in the quality of the product and the brand vision of La Colombe and completely share Todd and JP's mission to make better coffee available to more people."

Ulukaya will be an investor, adviser and mentor but will not hold director or management positions at La Colombe.

In 1994, Carmichael and Iberti opened La Colombe in Rittenhouse Square with a vision: to provide better coffee for more Americans.

In 2005, Ulukaya bought a shuttered manufacturing plant in central New York state and started what became a major marketer for strained or Greek-style yogurt.

Ulukaya had a vision too: to provide better food for more people.

With their company mantras somewhat aligned, the friendship-turned-partnership was a no-brainer.

"I don't have to explain my vision to Hamdi, it is already in his DNA," Carmichael said.

To take his position, Ulukaya bought out Goode Partners, a private equity firm that spent $28.5 million to invest in La Colombe last year. The money fueled the company's expansion. It now has 12 stores, including four each in Philadelphia and New York, three in Chicago and one in Washington.

Ulukaya's joining comes at a time when La Colombe is hoping to have 100 cafés operating nationwide in the next four years. His experience coupled with Chobani's reputation and relationships with retailers will be a great boon to La Colombe, Carmichael said. "Having Hamdi and Chobani by my side is incomparable."

La Colombe experienced a 40 percent growth in revenues from 2014 to 2015. It roasts four million pounds of coffee a year, which translates to more than 276 million cups of coffee.

The firm introduced patented cold-brewed draft coffee in July. Draft lattes are now available at the Fishtown and Independence Mall locations.

Ulukaya has already sprung into action. His first challenge to Carmichael as mentor was to make a ready-to-drink latte, a product that will begin selling in September and have national distribution by the end of the year.

"Hamdi is the guy to go to with questions. He's the mentor and I want to learn from someone who has been there and done that," Carmichael said.


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