“Awaken your senses.” That is the goal of Leecox Omollo, a 2002 Hope College graduate and software engineer turned coffee entrepreneur.
When he arrived at Hope from his hometown of Nairobi in the fall of 1998, he didn’t like coffee but loved the excitement and “vibe on campus” among international students. That is, until winter. Classes became harder, the weather harsher and the stress of second semester began to overwhelm. He found solace in the Fried Center on campus.
As a sophomore, he drew energy, if not yet inspiration, from coffee. At first he concealed its “unwelcome taste” using sugar. He embraced it purely as a stimulant to propel him through a rigorous schedule of work and school.
He tells the story of how that all changed when he stopped at a new coffee shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He finished his first cup of what he called the most flavorful and aromatic coffee before hurrying back to the counter for a refill. “Where is this coffee from?”, he asked the owner behind the counter. “It’s from Kenya,” came the reply. He was dumbfounded. Strangely, leaving Kenya had allowed him to fully appreciate Kenyan coffee.
He went on to graduate with a major in computer science from Hope College in 2002, a masters in computer science from Grand Valley State University and a MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago, where he resides today.
By the time he met his wife, Martha, in 2004, he could share with her his interest in coffee. They visited many coffee shops in many cities, met lots of interesting people and witnessed first-hand the power of coffee shops to connect people and elevate communities. The idea of starting a coffee business slowly began to form in each of their minds. Kikwetu Kenya Coffee Company was finally born in 2014.
Kikwetu is a Swahili word that translates to “our home”. During a recent visit to campus for a presentation at a Global Coffee Hour hosted by the Fried Center for Global Engagement, Leecox shared how the values of Kikwetu were informed from the home and foundation he found at Hope:
He shared that the experience he had at Hope, while not without challenges, was full of passion and energy. It was invigorating in mind, body and spirit. At Kikwetu, he hopes to build on the values of quality, invitation and the experience of being fully alive as a human.
He believes that differences between cultures and people should not be viewed as threatening, but should rather be highlighted and celebrated. The importance of global connections and a broad worldview are values he says he learned at Hope and wants to continue in his work.
He also shared that he wants to build a company around the understanding that real connections between human beings matter. He believes that coffee and tea, when properly unleashed, have a unique power to connect individuals and communities around the world. He draws inspiration around the connections he made with his host family at Hope and the relationships he has developed with local farmers in Kenya.