How a Black-owned coffee startup is handling newfound buzz during the pandemic
In June 2018, Pernell Cezar and his childhood friend Rod Johnson started selling coffee out of Cezar’s garage. Now, their brand, BLK & Bold, is sold on Amazon, in some Target stores and elsewhere. And its getting shout-outs as a brand to buy to show support for Black-owned businesses.
BLK & Bold Speciality Beverages’ journey has been a rapid one, with months that felt “like years,” Cezar says on the latest edition of Ad Age’s Marketer’s Brief podcast.
The past two months have been “an emotional rollercoaster,” he says. Being the first nationally distributed Black-owned coffee business “comes with a lot of responsibility for our community.”
Cezar and Johnson, two Black men who are childhood friends from Gary, Indiana, and “overconsumers of coffee,” Cezar says, based their brand in Des Moines, Iowa with a push to help lift up the community. “Coffee is relatively underdeveloped in Des Moines,” and so is being a Black founder of a business, Cezar says.
After outgrowing its first commercial space, the company is moving to a larger one. “We had to prove that we could get to that point to play at the caliber of national distribution,” he says.
As the coronavirus pandemic hit, “we had to pump the brakes and reassess what direction we were looking to go and how do we survive uncertainty as a startup,” says Cezar.
Initially, the company decided not to sign a lease for a bigger commercial space, instead working on ways to get everything from packaging to enough coffee beans to meet the demand for increased online and in-store coffee purchases when people stopped heading to coffee shops for their caffeine fix. In May, conversations about leasing a bigger space resumed. Then came the rising interest in Black-owned businesses following the killing of George Floyd. Now, BLK & Bold is moving into a 10,000-square-foot roastery location.
“The movement to support and help uplift Black people and Black-owned businesses as a way to be a part of the protest in support of human rights has allowed us to build more momentum and awareness that’s years ahead of what we would have been able to [do by] just continuing to go at it alone prior to this,” he says.
Even before the renewed calls for racial justice began this spring, the brand was being noticed by the likes of Kelly Rowland. And BLK & Bold was already doing its own community outreach, giving 5 percent of profits to help at-risk youths.
For example, in Des Moines, it partnered with the By Degrees Foundation, which supports and invests in students from elementary to high school. “It’s really a matter of doing local at scale,” Cezar says.
BLK & Bold is participating in the #StopHateforProfit boycott, he says, and is more focused on partnerships and raising awareness of other Black-owned businesses.
“With the increasing focus on human rights, we’ve really just doubled down on how do we focus on welcoming in people that are identifying us and learning what we’re about,” he says.