In Ethiopia, coffee is central to the country’s culture, fostering friendships and a spirit of community. By sharing her homeland’s coffee culture through Bereka Coffee, founder Nardos Street has also found a vibrant community at Bounce Innovation Hub.
Street is a graduate of the MORTAR at Bounce program, a 15-week accelerator focused on minority- and woman-owned businesses.
“I met an amazing group of people through MORTAR and loved every minute of it,” she said. “I feel very blessed that Bounce reached out to me.”
Leadership at Bounce first became familiar with Street and Bereka Coffee through her participation in Food Truck Wednesdays and events she catered at Bounce. While she also sells authentic Ethiopian food and tea, it’s the coffee and the important role it plays in bringing people together that was the catalyst for starting her business.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I roasted coffee and performed coffee ceremonies, so it’s what I knew. As the first-born female, it’s second nature to help and coffee ceremony was part of my chores,” she said. “Although it’s something I’ve done my whole life, it is energizing to share my culture with others.”
Street first came to the U.S. in 2004 to attend college at Wayne State University in Detroit, where she met her husband, Ron, who’s originally from Barberton. After college, the couple settled close to family in Northeast Ohio. As Street shared her country’s coffee traditions with friends and family here, she was inspired to start Bereka Coffee in 2016.
For the first three years, growth was difficult and inconsistent, with business slowly picking up by word of mouth. A social worker at Blick Clinic during the day, Street performed coffee ceremonies and catered events in the evening and on weekends. Then, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, events were suddenly cancelled.
“We pivoted to e-commerce to sell our coffee and teas, and started doing online demos,” she said.
As in-person events returned, the past year also provided an opportunity to participate in pop-ups at the NOHI commercial kitchen incubator, located in the North Hill neighborhood of Akron, which is helping the business grow.
Being part of the community at Bounce has enabled Street to connect with influencers, share resources and support other business owners, which has been one of the most rewarding aspects of her journey as an entrepreneur. For example, she recently teamed up with another small business that makes cookies to sell them along with her coffee and tea.
It has also been especially rewarding for Street to introduce people to a different culture and perhaps inspire them to visit or learn more.
“When people think of Ethiopia, many only think of starvation, but there are many good things about my country,” she said. “I want to demonstrate the beauty of my culture and spark in people’s hearts a desire to experience the world. That is the essence of my business.”
Like many entrepreneurs, her biggest challenges are juggling the many facets of business ownership and wearing so many different hats. She’s learned to ask for help, turning to friends and family to volunteer at events.
In fact, asking for help is advice she now gives to other entrepreneurs.
“It’s important to be part of the business community to help each other grow,” she said. “Also, don’t be discouraged if things don’t go as planned. Be flexible, adapt and be ready for surprises – both good and bad.”
As Street looks ahead to the future of Bereka Coffee, she is currently exploring some locations in the Akron area for a brick and mortar café, where she will serve coffee, tea and authentic Ethiopian food. She’s also planning to hire a couple people to help with events.
“We’re not just selling coffee. We are encouraging people to take time and enjoy the process,” Street said. “It has been an amazing experience to feel love from the community – it’s the fuel to keep moving. This is more than a business. It is a calling to celebrate the beauty of cultural diversity.”