When a successful young corporate manager announces to friends and family that he is leaving his job to start a business, the normal response is one of wariness. Now imagine telling your loved ones that you will be starting this business during a pandemic in a country that you have never visited and where you have zero business contacts.
Though this scenario is far from normal, it happened in real life for Investment Banker Michael Ramsay. Michael left his job at one of Jamaica's leading financial institutions in December 2020 to join his wife Shenika in the United Kingdom.
"I did it for love" he said when asked what dared him to make the audacious move. When the couple's relationship started getting serious in 2019, they agreed that they both had to be in the same country for a lasting healthy union.
Though Michael had plans of pursuing his doctoral studies in Canada, they ultimately decided on settling in the U.K., where Jamaican-national Shenika has been living for the past five years. Having worked for the Jamaica Tourist Board for over 14 years, Shenika has now set roots in the U.K.
The idea for the coffee business was the influence of Michael's uncle and mentor, Donald Salmon a 30-year veteran in the Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee Industry. "A month after I told him of my plans to migrate, he pitched the idea of me importing our family beans and selling them across the U.K.", Ramsay explained.
"I discussed it with Shenika, and within a week, we had a website up and running," Ramsay continued. Two months later, the couple had their first shipment of beans to England.
Business is not without challenges, and this new business has endured its fair share. "When the coffee arrived in the U.K., we could not clear it, as we did not have an EORI number. We had not yet registered the company. We thought that since it was sent under Shenika's name, we could clear it using her credentials.
This approach didn't work, and we had to quickly register the company and pay for one-week additional storage at the custom brokerage," Ramsay recalled. After clearing the freshly minted Mikah Blue Limited's coffee, the couple then stored it in a rented locker.
As time went on, the rent accumulated. Two months in, a global lockdown meant cafes and restaurants were apprehensive about their future and were not eager to have the world’s most luxurious coffee beans in their inventory.
Michael had also planned to join Shenika in March 2020, but this plan was shackled as countries grappled with the onset of COVID-19 Pandemic. "I had to rip up my letter of resignation and stick it out for nine more months. We also had to postpone our May wedding," he shared. The couple eventually got married in November in a small ceremony. In January 2021, Michael migrated to England accompanied on the trip by his wife.
Mikah Blue Limited, affectionately named by combining Michael and Shenika's first names, is a wholesaler and retailer of 100 per cent Blue Mountain Coffee. The beans are sourced directly from their family farms located in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. While not giving specifics, the couple said business is doing well, especially considering that the country is in lockdown.
"We got our first order hours after I arrived in the UK. Someone with whom we had been in discussions from last year called while we were driving from the airport in London to our home in the Midlands. We sent the invoice the next day, and the money was in our account three days later," recounted the Mikah top man.
Mikah has since formed strategic relationships with many large coffee roasters and has seen an uptick in its online retail sales. The company is currently in discussions with luxury chain buyers and have booked display booths for some of the premier Speciality and coffee events planned for later this year.
What's next for Michael and Mikah Blue? "I still plan on pursuing my Doctorate, but after the company has achieved certain goals," asserted Ramsay. The Blue Mountain coffee beans are grown chiefly in the Sir Johns’ Peak region and consistently score among the best in the world. Stored in the UK, the beans are sold as wholesale and retail primarily in Europe, North America, and the Middle East.
For your chance to win one of 10 bags of Mikah Blue Coffee, just answer this simple question!
On which famous mountain is Mikah Blue Coffee grown?
a) Purple Mountain
b) Blue Mountain
c) Yellow Mountain