How a Ukrainian refugee’s tenacious love for coffee carried him to small-business success
By Katherine Bell
Communications Coordinator, Spokane
During his daily commute in Ukraine, Igor Anisimov passed a local coffee roaster every morning. One day, after years of resisting the aroma of fresh-roasted coffee, he finally gave in. That was the day he fell in love with coffee.
“I was hooked!” Igor said, recalling the experience of his first cup of coffee. “I told my wife, ‘I tried the amazing coffee!’ And it was like ‘Opa!’”
Igor and his wife/business partner Iryna returned to the shop every day for the next five years. In 2014, they opened their own coffee shop in Ukraine. Shortly after, escalating violence in the region and the Russian annexation of Crimea forced the Anisimovs to close their shop and flee their home. After witnessing tragic loss and destruction, Igor and his family made the decision to file for refugee status.
In September 2015, they arrived in the U.S., and right from the start, Igor had his sights set on coffee.
“He was talking about coffee from the first day,” said Pingala Dhital, an Employment Specialist at World Relief.
During his first month in the U.S., Pingala assisted Igor in his job search, helping him work on application materials and submit them all over the city. According to Pingala, Igor all but refused to accept any job that was not coffee-related. Over several months, Igor made multiple attempts to work in the coffee industry, but at the time his English was inadequate for most service positions. Determined and persistent, Igor began volunteering with Starbucks in exchange for barista training, just to be around coffee.
“I decide what I love: coffee,” Igor said. “I thought, maybe from my love I can make money! Love and money is great happiness.”
Igor began pursuing his dreams of opening his own coffee shop after only a year in the U.S. However, lacking the credit history and language proficiency necessary to procure a loan, his chances were slim.
“My parents, my friends, everybody said, ‘You are stupid. You can’t do it. You will fail,’” he said.
Despite skepticism from his community, Igor’s commitment to his dream of owning a small business in the U.S. was convincing, and the Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners’ (SNAP) Financial Access and Business Development services agreed to give him the loan. Igor attributes his success in large part to Iryna’s intuition, creativity and radiant hope. She is also responsible for the development of many of Cedar Coffee’s specialty drinks, as well as the design of the interior space.
As Igor, Iryna and their son celebrate their fourth year in the U.S., and also celebrate business success – Igor expressed plans to begin roasting coffee in-house and is considering opening another shop in the next few years. As the business grows, Igor is committed to serving only top-notch coffee made with highest quality ingredients that he and Iyrna have served from the start.
“Drinking coffee is art,” Igor said. “It’s not just cup of water, it’s to enjoy. You need to ‘Opa!’”