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Brothers’ Russian heritage percolates through Dazbog brand

Mike Taylor //June 1, 2012//

Brothers’ Russian heritage percolates through Dazbog brand

Mike Taylor //June 1, 2012//

In every Dazbog Coffee shop you’ll see a framed photo of two young boys bundled up and standing on a cobblestone street in Leningrad. The image and the names printed on it – Leonid and Anatoly – are so stereotypically Russian that you think it must be the creation of some marketing agency.

But it’s not. It’s 4-year-old Leonid Yuffa and his 10-year-old brother Anatoly – five years before their family left the former Soviet Union and landed in Denver.

Leonid and Anatoly are the founders of Dazbog Coffee Co., a Denver-based coffee roaster, wholesaler and store franchiser. Their coffees celebrate their Russian heritage with names like Siberian Blend, KGBlend, Russian Roulette, Organic Tchiakovsky Blend and Caspian Espresso.

And then there’s the name of the company itself – Dazbog – which Leonid, 42, describes as an expression of well-wishing. “Like if you move somewhere to start a career, everyone will tell you, ‘Dazbog!’” Leonid says. “We thought it was appropriate for our business because we’re Russian and we really speak about our heritage through our brand.”

Since its founding in 1996, Dazbog has grown to 32 stores, all but six of them in Colorado. That pales next to Starbucks’ 322 Colorado locations (and 8,230 nationwide), but Leonid says Dazbog’s gross sales have increased every year except one, 2010, and the company rebounded from that dip with a record year of sales in 2011.

“It’s extremely competitive,” Leonid says. “There clearly is one number one, and there’s no number two that’s even close. And real estate is harder to find because Starbucks is everywhere. But we’ve really carved out a niche. For one, people love our story. It resonates with them. And that’s what gets them to try a first cup. We’re different-looking, different-feeling.”

The fun that the brothers now have in weaving their Russian heritage throughout the Dazbog brand belies the real hardships they encountered. In the Soviet Union, Leonid was taunted at school, made to stand up in class so he could be pointed at because he was Jewish. As a 9-year-old newcomer to the U.S., he was an outcast because he couldn’t speak English.

“People ask me why I don’t know a lot of day-to-day sayings that a lot of Americans know,” says Leonid, who graduated from CU-Boulder in 1992 with a degree in finance/accounting. “I don’t, because when my friends went home, they went to an American home. When I went home, I went back to Russia. I went to a Russian home with Russian-speaking parents and Russian food and everything.”

To get to the United States and become citizens, the Yuffa family, consisting of three brothers and their parents, endured an immigration process that required them to go through Germany, Australia and Italy over a period of many months. When they arrived in Denver in 1979, they had $900 to their name. Their father, who had been a shoemaker in the Soviet Union, went to work in the shoe business before opening his own shop in less than a year.

That entrepreneurial spirit is apparent in the Yuffa brothers as they seek to add five Dazbog stores per year throughout the Western U.S. over the next 10 years, along with expanding sales of Dazbog’s ground coffee and beans to more grocers and other retailers.

While Leonid is Dazbog’s chief operating officer and Anatoly is CEO/president, Leonid says, “We don’t really get hung up on titles, although we have very different roles at the company.” He jokes, “We have a board of directors meeting almost every day … where he goes into my office or I go into his.”

The brothers may not get hung up on job titles, but they do get a kick out of naming their coffees. Scheduled for unveiling this month: the Oneskee, a premium hand-poured, single cup.

“It’s all about the coffee,” Leonid says. “The root of the coffee.”

And about Russian roots, too, though Leonid sounds thankful to be telling that story from afar instead of living it anymore. “I have two beautiful daughters who are now first-generation Americans,” he says. “That’s very special. One of them was born on the Fourth of July, which is even that much more special.”