Michelle Fraedrick Alafghani, the owner of Matcha Konomi and Bien Mérite, has entrepreneurship in her DNA. Her grandfather opened a small restaurant in Oregon in 1960, and by the time he sold the company in 2003, it had over 300 franchises across the country. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs,” she said. “I saw how hard they worked and what they accomplished, and it just never occurred to me that I couldn’t also start my own business one day.”
When moving to Corpus Christi in 2016, Fraedrick Alafghani was entering a new life chapter. She was a single mother with two young children but looking to find her own identity outside of being a mom. “I was studying to become a real estate agent and obsessed with drinking matcha. I made it for myself at home and thought, ‘People might buy this.’” What started as a home-based business eventually grew into a food truck where she sold matcha lattes and small food items.
Building a business from the ground up with two small children is no easy feat. “It was difficult, I won’t lie, but I never wanted to look at [being a single mother] as a barrier,” Fraedrick Alafghani said. “I knew what I wanted to make happen and I figured it out along the way. When you’re a small business owner, you must live, eat and breathe what you do. It isn’t always easy, but you’ll find that when you believe in yourself, other people start to believe in you too, and they’ll want to support you.”
Prior to creating her own matcha powder, Fraedrick Alafghani sourced it from a grocery store, but she knew both quality and affordability were important to her and wasn’t willing to bend on either. So, she created her own and it took off, making significant waves outside the Coastal Bend—so much so that it wildly outdid the food truck’s business. Now, with wholesale bulk customers around the world, Matcha Konomi has consistently ranked in the top 10 matcha products on Amazon since its inception.
Except for the online hacking incident that caused Matcha Konomi to experience two months without a single sale. So, Fraedrick Alafghani and her now husband decided to start something new in the form of a French-inspired walk-up café. In early 2019, Bien Mérite opened and thanks to a front-page newspaper article, business was instantly booming. “We had a tiny oven and could only put out so many croissants a day, but suddenly we’d become known as ‘the croissant place,’” Fraedrick Alafghani recalled. “We started getting bad reviews because we’d always be sold out.” Her response? Give the people what they want.
The evolution of the bakery goes hand in hand with Fraedrick Alafghani’s ability to take criticism and turn it into constructive feedback. People wanted more pastries, so Bien began offering more pastries. Customers started wanting lunch items, so a lunch menu was created. Hungry diners wanted to stay a while, so the cafe increased seating and then moved into a larger location around the corner. Slowly but surely, by incorporating the people’s voice into the business, Bien Mérite continued to grow, and cemented itself as a local mainstay.
“If someone gives us a bad review, I don’t get angry. I instead look at it as an opportunity to enhance a customer’s experience,” Fraedrick Alafghani said. For her, customer experience is of utmost importance, and even if she doesn’t agree with everything a review says, she’ll take the feedback and use it to continue developing her business.
Come summer of 2024, Bien Mérite will be housed inside the historic Dobson Building. The new location will feature everything you’ve come to know and love about the local cafe — pink boxes and all. But, with the ability to intentionally design every detail and build out her dream space, Bien Mérite will take on a whole new level of dining, including a fine dining dinner concept with French fare. Rezoning was required for the long-vacant building to operate as a bakery and after the grueling five-month process, she was surprised by the outpouring of positivity.
“Typically, when an area gets rezoned, you’ll find some type of backlash, but the city seems to have really embraced this.” When asked why she thinks that’s been the case, Fraedrick Alafghani’s response speaks to one of the main reasons local businesses mean so much to a community. “At the simplest level, we’re a local meeting spot, and a city needs spaces like this to create more of a sense of community. You need those spaces where you’ll run into friendly faces or ride your bike to. That’s what Bien is. It’s more than a bakery; it’s an experience for people to come together and enjoy one another.”