How one local coffee shop found its groove.
What does it take for a new coffeehouse to break into an already competitive java landscape in Sacramento? We talked with Samir Benouar, founder of Milka Coffee Roasters, which opened downtown last February, about building a brand, a space and a vibe that stands out from the crowd.
On coffeehouse culture
I did a master’s in fine arts at The New School in Manhattan. That’s where my love of and need for coffee came into play. Working on a graduate degree takes a lot of long and arduous hours of reading and writing, so I needed coffee in my life. I like the idea that people from all walks of life come into coffee shops and they experience each other as friends or as strangers. It opens itself up to what we like to call the third place, that place outside of home and work where you go to hang out.
On building the Milka brand
The business is named for my great-grandmother, who immigrated to Sacramento from Croatia in the 1920s. She was a woman about Sacramento who owned her own business, Milka’s Variety Store, at 16th and N. She was a very charismatic and enigmatic person, and everyone who talked to her instantly loved her. I wanted my place to have her same welcoming but unique quality. My cartoon artist friend in New York drew her face from pictures I gave him, and my older brother helped turn it into our logo.
On creating the perfect space
The building was built in 1861 and is on the city’s historic registry. It was very intriguing to me to look at this old building and ask what can we do with this. Victorians are a centerpiece of Sacramento architecture. I wanted to show you don’t have to turn these old buildings into apartments. Specialty coffee shops often are just four white walls and an espresso machine. Here, I wanted people to feel welcome but still get a great coffee. All the textures and colors are warm and homey, like something you’d maybe find in Milka’s home. My girlfriend, Bree Uston of Cindr Studio, did all of the interior design and made it beautiful.
On building community through coffee
Part of our company culture is to open up to neighbors. We’ve had company retreats, a bridal shower and even a wedding here. We host a yoga event every third Sunday and have raised money for Loaves & Fishes through that. On Milka’s First Fridays, we invite local artists to come and create something around a set theme. It’s a fun little party where I’m the DJ. We really want people to realize how important a space like this can be to a community.