By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jul 29, 2013 at 5:28 AM

On Sunday, July 28, Paul Miller, Lincoln Fowler and Ward Fowler – the founders and owners of Alterra Coffee – announced to their 350 employees at a staff meeting in The Pabst Theater that the name of the company is changing to Colectivo Coffee.

"Nothing else is changing," says Lincoln Fowler. "Not the people, not the look and feel and certainly not the culture."

The new name – pronounced "Co-lec-TEE-vo" – is inspired by the colorful buses used for public transportation in Latin America.

The name change marks the end of a three-year relationship with Mars Drinks, a subsidiary of Mars, Inc. It’s also the start of a new chapter for the local company.

In 2010, the owners sold the brand name – not the company – to Mars Drinks. During this time, the cafes and wholesale business remained owned by Miller and the Fowler brothers and continued to operate independently.

"Mars wanted to buy our company, but we told them no," says Lincoln Fowler. "We knew if they bought our company, they were going to close our company down."

However, after much negotiation, Alterra struck an agreement with Mars, agreeing to sell the name, intellectual property, consulting sessions and general knowledge / insight into the industry. In exchange, Alterra received enough resources to expand.

"(Without the agreement) Bay View simply wouldn’t have happened – maybe not at all and certainly not in the fabulous way it was executed," says Lincoln Fowler.

The Madison, Wauwatosa and Third Ward stores were also made possible by the arrangement with Mars. The Third Ward store is scheduled to open in late fall.

Currently, Mars distributes its Alterra brand coffee in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Korea and Japan.

The Colectivo owners view the relationship with Mars as a success.

"They have been remarkably respectful of our company. They understood that we could create something they couldn’t, and they respected that and treated us carefully and didn’t intervene in places they didn’t have to," says Miller.

The Alterra signage will be removed from the Prospect location on Monday, Aug. 5 and will be completed at the other cafes by mid September.

"We’re thinking about doing a public auction where people can grab a piece and then we’ll donate all of the proceeds to our local partners," says Lincoln Fowler. (More information on this to come when it’s available.)

The original plan was for the name change to happen in mid-June, but it was set back. The owners were aware of the upcoming change for a while, so providing signage for stores that opened recently, although necessary, was done resourcefully.

"The Madison sign looks kind of temporary and we were literally pulling letters out of the scrap heap to put together a sign for (68th and Wells in) Tosa," says Lincoln Fowler.

The company actually ran out of one-pound packages with the Alterra name on them. These packages are custom-made for the company, and so when they ran out, they decided to dip into the already-printed Colectivo bags and put Alterra stickers on top of the Colectivo logo. (Check your coffee bag – you might have one – more than a thousand stickered-over bags were sold.)

The simple act of removing one sticker to reveal another is symbolic of what’s happening. It’s just a name change. And yet, it’s more than a name change – Alterra is so much a part of the identity that the owners are aware it will take awhile for people to embrace it.

"It’s a little and a lot at the same time," says Lincoln Fowler.

The company’s imagery will also stay the same and continue to have its signature colorful, folk-arty look. The name of the coffees will not change either, including the Blue Heeler, which has been with the company from the start.

For a while now, imagery on coffee bags and apparel started to focus more on the art and less on the name.

"This was all in preparation to make the transition as painless as possible for our staff and our customers," says Lincoln Fowler.

Miller says he is wistful about letting go of the name, but excited about the future.

"When we initially did the transaction, I really felt it. I got up one morning and sat at my kitchen table and it was pretty emotional," he says. "This is a very personal expression of ourselves and we worked really hard and have been really protective of it, but the new name is better suited to who we are now. Coffee is the center of what we do, but we do a lot of other things now, too."

As for the future, the Colectivo owners say they plan to open the Third Ward store – the location will be smaller than the other cafes – and Lincoln Fowler says they also hope to "continue growing our footprint in Madison."

"We’ve been really well received there and we’re really proud of it," he says.

The company will also continue to explore their relationship with serving beer. Created by two employees, their house beer is now available at the Madison and Tosa stores and will be available in the Third Ward location as well. 

"Like everything we do, we’ll see how this grows and let it develop organically," says Lincoln Fowler.

Introducing Colectivo Coffee from Colectivo Coffee Roasters on Vimeo.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.