Raleigh business owners market French-press brew with a twist

Area couple’s Impress updates coffee maker

dranii@newsobserver.comNovember 12, 2012 

Photo of protoype of Impress Coffee Brewer

COURTESY OF IMPRESS

— The owners of a downtown business say they have an easy way to brew a great cup of coffee, and they’ve raised more than $130,000 from investors over the Internet who think they’re on to something.

Aly and Beth Khalifa, co-owners of Gamil Design, a Raleigh product and graphic design firm, are poised to launch production of their Impress Coffee Brewer, a no-muss-no-fuss variation on French press brewing, which many coffee aficionados consider the best way to brew coffee but is a pain to clean.

“I’d love to be a $1 million business by the end of the year – that’s our goal,” said Aly Khalifa. “Based on preliminary feedback, that seems like a reasonable goal.”

The couple say the Impress brewer is designed for easy clean-up and eliminates the infiltration of coffee grounds that can muck up a French-pressed cup of java. It also doubles as an on-the-go cup that you can take with you after brewing.

“The to-go part of it is an ancillary benefit,” said Beth Khalifa. “The inspiration was, how do you make a really good cup of coffee?”

How it works

The stainless-steel device consists of two cups, one of which nestles inside the other. Like a French press, you start by pouring hot water over coffee grounds. But instead of using a plunger to separate the grounds from the beverage after three minutes of brewing, you push down the inner cup and its detachable micro-filter. Put on the lid and up to 14 ounces of coffee is good to go; the double-walled outer cup keeps the coffee hot and the filter halts the brewing process, which would make the coffee bitter if it continued.

“The holes are so small, it acts like a one-way valve,” Aly Khalifa said.

To raise the funds needed to move from prototype to production, the Khalifas turned to Kickstarter, the largest of numerous websites that enable people to contribute relatively small sums of money to transform a concept into reality – anything from a new product to a creative endeavor such as a film, a music festival or an art installation.

The Khalifas also are managing members of Designbox, a collective that includes a gallery and gift shop in downtown Raleigh. Their Designbox roles made Kickstarter top-of-mind, since four products sold in the shop were funded by Kickstarter, including leather wallets and handbags made of recycled airline upholstery produced by Tierra Ideas of Raleigh.

Moreover, Kickstarter has advantages over more traditional funding routes – such as loans that have to be repaid or selling a stake in the business, which means sharing the profits and possibly surrendering control.

Launched on Oct. 3, fundraising for the Impress brewer blew past the Khalifas’ goal of $50,000 in less than a week. By the time fundraising was completed Nov. 3, a total of 2,449 backers contributed $131,130.

Those who pledged at least $40 will receive one of the first Impresses made. The Khalifas have arranged for the brewers, which they expect to be available for sale by April, to be produced in China.

“We’re working on the final, final tweaks to make sure it is perfect,” Beth Khalifa said.

Since their fundraising essentially includes the first product orders, raising more money than anticipated could be a problem if the Impress brewer ends up costing significantly more to produce than expected. But Aly Khalifa is confident they have a good handle on the costs and projects that the suggested retail price will be about $40.

Lessons learned

The Khalifas aren’t neophytes. In addition to designing a host of products for clients, they previously developed – in partnership with the former owners of The Third Place, a Raleigh coffee shop – the Teastick, a one-cup tea infuser that makes it relatively easy to use loose tea leaves.

“A lot of our customers were giving us feedback: ‘We love this thing. You need to make a Teastick for coffee,’ ” Beth Khalifa said.

Although they’ve sold tens of thousands of Teasticks – suggested retail price: $18 – it wasn’t patented, nor was the Teastick brand trademarked.

“It was just a fun thing to do with our friends at Third Place,” Aly Khalifa said.

The end result, however, is that knock-offs have cropped up bearing the Teastick brand and the Khalifas are powerless to do anything about them.

This time around, the Khalifas have applied for patent and trademark protection. And they’re hoping to leverage the distribution network for the Teastick, which they estimate is in 2,000 stores worldwide, to include the Impress brewer. They also plan to sell it on the Impress Coffee website, http://shop.gamilacompany.com/impress/, and are planning to take pre-orders on the site later this week.

Four years in design

The Khalifas developed the Impress in fits and starts over a four-year period, working on it in between projects for clients. They went through more than three dozen designs before coming up with what they are convinced is a winner.

“We can show you some hideous contraptions,” Aly Khalifa said. “We really had some complicated devices.”

“At least we got to drink a lot of coffee,” Beth Khalifa added.

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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