By Eric Peterson | May 14, 2015
Salt Lake City
After 18 years with Danish coffee giant Bodum, Perez connected with Alpha Dominche -- meaning "first of its kind" -- in 2014 and started commuting between New York and Utah to helm the fledgling company.
"I was in the process of starting my own roasting company and a small chain of coffeeshops in New York," he says.
But the opportunity with Alpha Dominche changed his plans. "I really could see some enormous potential," says Perez.
The company's tablet-controlled Steampunk line of commercial-grade coffee brewers take making a cup of joe -- or tea -- to the next level. "You dial in your recipe for every beverage," says Perez. Pinpoint digital control of time, temperature, water, and other key variables "brings out the best brew."
Brewing recipes are stored both on the machine and in the cloud, meaning they can be shared among separate locations of a coffee or tea chain, or roasters can share recipes with customers.
The self-cleaning machines, which start at $13,000, launched in 2013 after two years of R&D. Alpha Dominche has since sold about 500 machines, says Perez. "In the U.S., it's primarily high-end coffee and tea shops," he adds. Sales are "split between those at a 50/50 level."
Tea was an unexpected market for Alpha Dominche, but it's a great match for the Steampunks. "When you look at tea brewing methods and parameters, they're way more diverse for tea," says Perez. Green tea requires low temperatures, while black tea needs hotter water, he notes, and steeping times range from 30 seconds to nearly 10 minutes.
The Steampunk machines are a study in industrial design -- functionality is matched by aesthetics. "It's adding a lot of technology," says Perez. "It's adding consistency. It's adding theater."
On the latter point, he explains: "You see the whole brewing process in those glass crucibles while you're brewing. That goes hand in hand with the entire experience. It has to look good."
At one customer in Toronto, the Steampunk is in the center of the shop -- and the center of attention. "Everyone that comes in goes straight to the machine," says Perez.
Alpha Dominche works with a number of manufacturing partners in Utah to produce its machines. Perez calls Salt Lake "a good space” for manufacturers.
On his weekly 2,178-mile commute from NYC to SLC, he adds, "I like the change of pace and the change of scenery. It's the best of both worlds."
Challenges: "It's building the market," says Perez. "It's a new category. It's not a $500 machine." In this context, building a distribution network of resellers -- in some cases coffee roasters themselves -- is critical. "The opportunities are everywhere. We just have to find the right partners."
Opportunities: Exports. The company could be in as many as 40 countries by the beginning of 2016. "We're just starting in Europe right now," says Perez. Asia is next: Alpha Dominche will launch in Korea in August 2015.
Needs: "It's really about brushing up our processes and making sure we're ready to grow," says Perez. "A lot of things come with a startup. Small things can become big things. It's about getting organized in the right way."
"We're a small company in the middle of the country," he adds. "If we were just selling to Utah and Colorado and Nevada, it would be much easier."