The U.S. Small Business Administration 2022 Washington Small Business Person of the Year is Efrem Fesaha, CEO and founder of Boon Boona Coffee in Renton.
Fesaha is also the 2022 Pacific Northwest Small Business Person of the Year, selected among state winners from Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, making him one of 10 finalists for the SBA National Small Business Person of the Year Award.
Founded in 2012, Boon Boona Coffee began sourcing fresh “green” coffee for distribution among Seattle-area retail stores with the goal of opening a brick-and-mortar location to house their own café and roastery. In 2022, Boon Boona is now roasting more than 100,000 pounds of coffee per year while employing a staff of 20 across two locations.
Fesaha found inspiration for Boon Boona while visiting family in Eritrea in 2011. Frequenting local cafés and immersing himself in East African coffee culture was unlike anything he had experienced while growing up in Seattle.
Eleven years later, Fesaha has remained true to his roots with a dedication to sourcing fresh coffee beans from African producers and exporters, forging long-term relationships with partners in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya.
According to the SBA, Fesaha “maintains a commitment to creating positive impact through sourcing from women-owned growers and by positioning his café and roastery as a safe space for building local community.”
The SBA Small Business Person of the Year award – part of National Small Business Week May 1-7 – recognizes small business owners who demonstrate staying power and substantiated history as an established business with at least three years of business operation. Winners must also show growth in net worth and business expansion, increase in jobs and sales, innovativeness of products or services, response to adversity, and contributions to community-oriented projects.
“Winning this award is recognition to all the people that have contributed to our success,” Fesaha said. “This has been a long journey, and I am so grateful to everyone that has worked to get us where we are today.”
Facing initial rejections from many lenders, Fesaha utilized free and low-cost business mentoring through SCORE and the Washington Women’s Business Center to develop his business plan. In 2019, Fesaha was able to secure a $100,000 SBA loan with Craft3 to open his first café and roastery in downtown Renton.
Following a successful first year in business, the COVID-19 pandemic posed many new challenges. Fesaha credits SBA’s COVID-19 recovery programs for the support he needed to stay afloat. The SBA Paycheck Protection Program provided funding to bring his staff back to work and the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan program provided the cash flow Fesaha needed to maintain the health and safety of his customers and staff while adapting his business model to ongoing challenges.
“If it wasn’t for the relief we received through these programs, our business may not be here today,” Fesaha said.
Looking forward, Fesaha is focused on the original mission behind Boon Boona Coffee. Fesaha continues to foster economic growth in the regions where he sources, while offering the café as an inclusive space to host local artists, musicians, and non-profit organizations.