On Wednesday night, about 100 students attended the Yemeni Students’ Association’s event “Crisis, Commitment, and Coffee: A Yemeni American Story.” The event featured Ibrahim Alhasbani, a Yemeni Immigrant and the founder of Qahwah House, a coffee shop in Dearborn, Michigan. Qahwah House aims to teach their customers about the struggles of those living in Yemen, where the shop sources their coffee.
Alhasbani began his presentation by describing Yemen’s historical connection to coffee. He also explained the origins of the coffee shop’s name. Qahwah translates to “coffee” in English.
“Yemen is the birthplace for coffee,” Alhasbani said. “That’s why Yemen’s coffee is the most important coffee in the world … I remind everyone, coffee comes from where? It comes from Yemen.”
Alhasbani shared his story of moving from Yemen to the United States and establishing his coffee business. Born in Sana’a, Yemen, Alhasbani came to the United States in hopes of finding better opportunities. He worked as the Marketing Manager for Red Bull and Nestle, respectively, but after 17 years he moved to Michigan.
“I want to do something different,” Alhasbani said. “We own the best coffee in the world. So I think it’s time to do it.”
He quit his job at Nestle and began working on his coffee business in Dearborn. Alhasbani said he’s pleased with his decision, but acknowledged the initial challenges.
“It’s not easy — there’s no income,” Alhasbani said. “But I said, that’s fine. It’s going to be okay.”
Alhasbani opened Qahwah House in 2018. He intended for people to understand the country of Yemen and the story of its people.
“People see the coffee, but they don’t see how we bring it,” he said. “We talk to the people, tell them what’s going on in Yemen. They come to drink the coffee and we tell them our story.”
Alhasbani continued discussing the challenges Yemen is currently facing and how he tries to help.
“People don’t have food or medicine,” he said. “It’s not a small problem. It’s every house in Yemen. We try to send the message for people to help Yemen.”
Following his presentation, Alhasbani held a question and answer session. Many of the questions centered around Alhasbani’s business strategy. One audience member asked about his marketing strategy and why Alhasbani believed his coffee shop was so successful.
In part, Alhasbani said the publicity for the coffee shop comes about in a unique way.
“It’s social media,” he said. “They taste something good, they share it.”
Alhasbani was also asked about how he got the confidence to quit his job and trust that he would succeed.
“Believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself, you can do anything,” Alhasbani said. “But make a plan, take it step by step. Study and do research.”
Alhasbani also discussed his newfound connection to Michigan and the city of Dearborn. When he first came to the United States, Alhasbani moved to New York City. He compared New York to Michigan, explaining why he prefers Dearborn.
“Over there you have friends, but you never see them,” Alhasbani said. “Everyone’s busy. Here you feel like you’re home.”
He then talked specifically about his relationship with his customers in Dearborn and how he wants them to feel when visiting Qahwah House.
“I try to make it special for everyone,” Alhasbani said. “I want to keep it for everyone, for families and students, too.”
At the end of the event, Alhasbani opened up to the audience about the challenges he has faced.
“I didn’t have family,” Alhasbani said. “I didn't have friends. I didn’t even have a driver’s license or a work permit.”
He then offered advice to those in the audience who are trying to decide what they want to do in their life, urging them not to choose a career just because of the money or their parents.
“Think a lot about what want you want to do,” Alhasbani said. “Then just do what you like.”
LSA junior Rasheed Abdullah helps with public relations for the Yemeni Students’ Association. He explained the organization wanted to share Alhasbani’s experiences and business.
“We wanted to showcase a member of the Yemeni community with a unique story,” Abdullah said. “We though hearing his entrepreneurial story would be a unique opportunity … With his success in the U.S. as a Yemeni immigrant, and his mission is to improve the conditions back in Yemen, that’s really inspiring.”
Public Health junior Jenna Chami initially came to the event for a class, but said she left with a greater understanding of the topic.
“It’s important to know that the coffee you’re drinking, it was hard to get,” Chami said. “I think the stories behind it would resonate with a lot of people.”
When Alhasbani was asked what he would tell a person who doesn’t know anything about Yemen or coffee who came into his shop, he offered a short and direct answer.
“You tell them everything’s good,” Alhasbnai joked. “Coffee is coffee. Good coffee, anyway.”