How the Cleveland startup wants to make independent shops as convenient as major chains
Everyone loves supporting local businesses. But when it comes to your daily coffee, loyalty programs, rewards and other perks can often make it more convenient to simply stop by the big name rather than patronizing a mom-and-pop shop. That’s where Cafilia comes in. The new Cleveland startup aims to give power back to independent coffee shops by putting them all together on one subscription platform. You choose a number of coffees per month, get a special mug and start saving and supporting.
“Cafilia is a subscription to local coffee shops,” said founder Aleksandra Brankov. “There are no chains and no corporations — it’s exclusively small, independent coffee shops and local franchises. And not only is it a subscription service, but there’s an important sustainability element. It’s 100 percent local business support, first in Cleveland and then beyond.”
A Cafilia membership, priced between $25 and $77 per month depending on your coffee intake, gets you a specially designed Cafilia travel mug that serves as the key to your subscription. But the mug is more than a token, it’s a signal of Cafilia’s commitment to sustainability. For Brankov, the reusable mug is just as important as the goal of helping small coffee shops.
“I’m hoping that creates a sustainable cycle rather than just having people motivated by getting a discount,” she said. “It’s important to me to be 100 percent local and also 100 percent sustainable. I don’t want people to keep throwing away takeaway cups and adding to our environmental issues. Even for someone who only gets two coffees a week outside their house, that’s more than 100 coffee cups being thrown away per year.”
Brankov grew up in Cleveland and went to the University of Akron, but lived abroad in England and Spain for five years before returning to the States. Earlier this year, she was on a trip to Canada with friends when she saw everyone carrying around expensive coffee tumblers and having them filled whenever they bought coffee, a trend that had yet to hit Europe. She wondered why these expensive mugs couldn’t be the key to helping local coffee make a comeback, and Cafilia was born.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if, with this one mug, you had access to coffee wherever you go?’” she said. “I thought about who would benefit from it the most, and that would be small, local coffee shops. Those shops need the visibility and the sales and the foot traffic that they might not have the marketing dollars to attract otherwise. That’s why offering the subscription exclusively to local shops is important.”
The platform is just a couple months old, but has already established partnerships with Root Café, Caffeine and Burning River in Lakewood, 3-19 Coffee in Ohio City and Café Phix in Midtown. And for the shops involved, Cafilia is as much about supporting a project they appreciate as is it about expanding their own customer base.
“As an independent coffee shop, we are constantly looking for ways to get our name and brand out there, and Cafilia represents that opportunity,” said Mike Vehar, owner of 3-19 Coffee. “Even more important than the exposure, we are proud to work with Cafilia because they share the same vision of promoting community and sustainability in coffee. We have already been serving Cafilia customers at our Ohio City cafe who might not have known about 3-19 Coffee otherwise. It’s always great to connect with fellow entrepreneurs in the Cleveland area, especially when your passions align.”