Vicktor Stevenson can usually be found standing outside his high-end lemonade stand in the Mission District, working crowds like the mayor of Valencia Street — megawatt smile flashing with ease, answering questions with aplomb, posing for social media photos in front of the shop’s bright yellow facade.
Stevenson is in the throes of a spotlight unique to 2018. His shop, Gourmonade, went viral twice during July, its first month of business — once for its high prices and then for an incident with law enforcement at his shop that Stevenson views as racially charged.
For better or worse, Stevenson has been awash in attention. His stand is seeing increased patronage from the community, he says. The increase in sales comes as people are sharing photos and messages of support for the black-owned business on social media. He’s trying to use the spotlight to quickly expand his grassroots lemonade operation.
When Gourmonade opened in mid-July, the shop’s prices raised eyebrows: $8 for 16 ounces of lemonade, an amount Stevenson says is fair for a product made by hand each morning.
Stevenson, who previously worked in New York as a barber and hair stylist, came to imagine Gourmonade as Blue Bottle, but for a different beverage.
Located near the corner of Valencia and 20th, Gourmonade’s tiny storefront consists mostly of a large refrigerator, signage and menu boards. Stevenson charms curious passersby in his role as lemonade concierge. Glass containers shaped like a lemon are stored in a mini-fridge with clear sliding doors. Also on offer is an $8 “Jasmine Palmer” made with lemon juice, jasmine green tea and turbinado sugar.
On July 17, just three days after Gourmonade’s grand opening, the shop was thrust into the spotlight again. Stevenson, who is black, was checking the security system when he was approached by four police officers. One officer, Stevenson said, had his hand near his weapon. It was a little before 7 a.m., around the time Stevenson usually begins squeezing lemons.
The officers asked Stevenson to present his identification, he said, and told him that someone had called and reported a break-in. Stevenson posted about the incident on Instagram, spurring coverage from outlets including the Washington Post and Fox News.
As a black entrepreneur in a city with a rapidly diminishing African American population, Stevenson became the latest episode in a growing category of viral news: black people being policed while performing mundane tasks.
Even as Stevenson commiserated with supporters online, another set of internet commenters called his story “fake news,” claiming he lied or did something to warrant the officers’ attention.
“It’s sad because had I been shot at my place of business that day, people would have tried to find a way to say ‘But he did this,’ ‘But he did that,’” Stevenson said in a Facebook post at the time. “I’m black, I’m at my business, I’m literally minding my business, and somebody called the cops on me.”
Thanks to the boost in attention, Stevenson’s Instagram account for Gourmonade has grown to more than 9,000 followers.
It’s not all from his time in the viral news cycle: People took note in May when Stevenson sought funding for his business through San Francisco nonprofit Kiva, which lets people lend money in as little as $25 increments to impoverished entrepreneurs. It took only four days for Stevenson to secure a $10,000 loan, $2,300 of which went to signage and waterproofing his stand, while $3,000 went to refrigeration and another $1,700 toward lemonade production and transportation equipment.
In a similar vein, Stevenson recently started a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising $40,000. He said the funds will help expand his hours (the shop is currently open Friday through Sunday), and increase production capacity. So far he’s raised $3,574.
Last weekend, Stevenson was selling lemonade at the opening of San Francisco’s new transit center.
With a memorable first month of business under his belt, the road forward is clear for Stevenson: building a customer base in San Francisco. Those crowds that gather at his business are, more often than not, well-wishers.
“I got three hugs today from people already,” he said. “Everything is going well. Like I said, I’m just taking it one day at a time.”
Source: San Fransisco Chronicle