Chobani Founder Invests Big in La Colombe

Hamdi Ulukaya reportedly bought out a private equity firm that invested $28.5 million last year.


La Colombe CEO Todd Carmichael frequently seeks out business executives that he respects, so he can pick their brains and learn how they operate. One of them is Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of the wildly popular greek yogurt company Chobani.

Soon, the two became fast friends — and La Colombe now makes a coffee brand just for Chobani (and its New York cafe) and the two traveled to Turkey for an episode of Dangerous Grounds, Carmichael’s Travel Channel TV show about hunting for the world’s best coffee beans.

Now, Chobani and La Colombe have become even closer — Ulukaya is now the sole investor in La Colombe. He’s now the majority owner of the company with no board responsibilities, according to a statement.

The New York Times was first to report the story and said Ulukaya would not disclose the amount he invested. It did say that the Chobani founder “bought out Goode Partners, a small private equity firm that invested $28.5 million in La Colombe last year.” That cash helped La Colombe build new cafes in cities like Philadelphia, New York and Chicago. The company has plans to build 100 cafes across the country.

The Times said Ulukaya wasn’t looking to make an investment and doesn’t even like American coffee. “In La Colombe, he saw a chance to mount an insurgency in a food category dominated by two or three major players and dozens of boutique roasting businesses, rather like the opportunity he saw in yogurt,” the Times said.

Although Chobani recently reached $1 billion in annual sales, it’s “saddled with debt” after building the world’s largest yogurt factory, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“Amazing things happen over coffee, and meeting Todd and [La Colombe co-founder JP Iberti] was one of them,” said Ulukaya in a statement. “I believe in the quality of the product, the brand vision of La Colombe and the experience they’ve created in their cafés. I completely share Todd and JP’s mission to increase the craft and quality of coffee in America while elevating the café experience to something truly special.”

The investment comes on the heels of La Colombe’s release of the draft latte, a coffee-and-milk combo poured from a keg that has a semi-sweet taste and a slight milkshake-like texture. Available now in La Colombe coffee shops, the draft latte will soon be canned and shipped to retail outlets across the country. Carmichael hopes to keep the price under $2 per can.

Carmichael is also set to debut a new Travel Channel show called Uncommon Grounds. The Philadelphia Business Journal says “Carmichael will explore the culture of each country through the lens of coffee in an effort to build his business and learn more about how coffee plays a critical role in society.”

On the Chobani deal, Carmichael said in a statement: “Welcoming Hamdi to our team is a whole new level for us. I’ve spent over 20 years sourcing and crafting the perfect coffee and Hamdi shares our vision and craft to create a better coffee experience, with our products and our cafés, and continuing to create something totally different—a brand and a product that uplifts.”