Garage-Based Black-owned Coffee Start-up, BLK & Bold Coffee, Makes First Million
Friends Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson create a coffee business and earn first $1 million in profit in three years.
Rod Johnson did not even drink coffee and admits that he was much more of a tea person at the time Pernell Cezar suggested this idea.
In 2018, the duo launched their brand – BLK & Bold Coffee in Des Moines, Iowa. This coffee is the country’s first Black-owned nationally distributed coffee brand that has attracted high-profile partnerships with Target, Amazon, Ben & Jerry’s, and later NBA.
The company is built around a social mission with them donating 5% of the total profits to non-profits that support kids in underserved communities across the country.
In May, the BLK & Bold became the 1st ever Black-owned food and beverage brand to sign a licensing pact with the NBA. They have collaborated on a coffee flavor called “The Warm Up.” On Sept 20th, the company partnered with Ben & Jerry’s to develop a new coffee ice cream known as Change is Brewing.
Where it all started
Both Cezar and Johnson had built solid careers before choosing this path. Cezar worked as a sales director for Sundial Brands, a beauty retailer while Johnson worked on the fundraising at Stockton University.
However, these two friends wanted more personal fulfillment from their work and dreamed of starting their own business together. They even took positions – Johnson as the chief marketing officer and Cezar as the CEO. Even without knowing what to sell yet, they decided their company would revolve around a social impact model with a percentage of their funds going to charity. This was quite a vision for these two young men.
“We wanted to make sure that we found a way to reinvest back into those who just need a boost, who just need a helping hand to overcome and rise above their respective circumstances,” Johnson says.
BLK & Bold Coffee
Johnson and Cezar’s inspiration came from their own upbringing in Gary, Indiana – a city that is about 25 miles Southeast of Chicago. An empoverished area with high crime rates and a reputation for being amongst the most disadvantaged area in the country.
A home economics teacher duo named – Sheila Carpenter says these boys avoided the trouble of falling in with the wrong crowd by playing sports or at the local boys & girls club after school. “It gave them another choice of staying out of trouble and doing the right thing,” Carpenter says.
The Boys & Girls Club they used to hang out after school gave them first-hand insight into why it was good to give back to society and help young people. In 2020, BLK & Bold donated about $42,000 to 14 community-based organizations. Some of the beneficiaries are the No Kid Hungry – fights childhood hunger, Des Moines – Educational program, and Black Youth in Miami – a coding initiative.
Quoting Rebecca Langan, a Youth Guidance director, “These are young people that would never [otherwise] have access to that kind of intervention and support of a trained counselor inside their school,” says Langan. Youth Guidance is a student counseling non-profit organization in Chicago that received $2,500 last year from BLK & Bold.
From Humble Beginnings in a Garage to Thousands of Stores
Today Johnson is no longer a stranger to coffee! Both co-founders love and enjoy their brand being their own best customers. They have grown their business from a single roaster in Cezar’s small garage to a 20,000 square foot commercial facility.
Carrying out lots of research is what made Cezar and Johnson learn the secret that helped them succeed in growing their brand. These two friends learned that black Americans are under-represented (in many industries as well as) in the coffee industry as both consumers and entrepreneurs. According to National Coffee Association, African-Americans are the least likely ethnic group to drink coffee regularly in America. This is not true.
They sighted a lack of information and resources for black entrepreneurs to venture into this industry.
BLK & Bold started selling bags of home-based roasted beans to independent retailers in the Midwest. They relied mostly on social media for marketing and spent over $22,000 of their own personal savings to build a website and attend industry trade shows and get their product to retailers.
BLK & Bold Coffee Breakthrough
Their big breakthrough came in Jan of 2020 – BLK & Bold’s products landed in 200 Target locations across the US.
Later the same year, more partnerships with Whole Foods, Midwestern Grocery chains Hy-Vee, and other retailers stocked their products. They not only had coffee in the market but tea as well.
Soon after, the pandemic hit, and online sales took off on Amazon where they were featured as part of the e-commerce giant’s Black Business Accelerator last summer. The killing of George Floyd worked positively on their business when consumers across America flocked to support their Black-owned businesses in support of Black Lives Matter. This brought them another huge financial boost.
Today, they face the challenge of maintaining their still-young business against stiff competition in the world of food and beverage and using their success to help kids in the disadvantaged backgrounds like the same one they grew up in. We can only keep watching this space!