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This Black Owned Vintage Clothing Business Offers Cool ’90s Nostalgia

The ’90s were the best years of my life. I remember my obsession with all things Hip Hop, RnB, Black sitcoms, and the best Black movies.

That’s why I was excited to discover a Black owned vintage clothing business that specializes in ’90s era paraphernalia, and other cool items. We caught up Eric Brown Jr, the owner of Backtrack Vintage to find out more about his business.

black owned vintage
Eric Brown Jr, the owner of Backtrack Vintage

What inspired you to start your business?

I’ve always had an appreciation for great retail experiences and, initially when I decided to go into the business full time, I wanted to build an amazing brick and mortar location for people to get their vintage clothing fix. Unfortunately, I couldn’t land a retail location no matter what I did or where I looked.

So after months of searching and hearing about seven “no’s” from different landlords around the city, I decided to bet on myself and build my store inside an old school bus.

black owned vintage

I spent about 5 weeks from sunrise and sunset building the inside of the bus and I took it to the streets in April of 2019.

black owned vintageHow do you find the items you sell?

During the early days, I would basically spend an entire day inside different thrift stores, flea markets, and weekend garage sales. Now we have a great network of sellers who we source high-quality vintage garments from, as well as sourcing from some of the best vintage rag houses in Los Angeles.

In addition to those items being mindfully hand-picked to be a piece of nostalgia, we also go above and beyond to find items that are like new and restore items as needed.

What is it about the ’90s era that appeals to you?

Not only were the ’90s the era of my childhood, but it also represented a time in American history where there was a lot of abundance. For a young person during that era there was no shortage of wearable merch from movies, tv shows, and sports teams.
Black owned vintage
Plus the vast majority of garments were made here in the USA and that higher level of quality when it comes to manufacturing has really helped these vintage items last almost 30 years later. Not to mention brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Polo Sport by Ralph Lauren emerged as the trendsetters in what we would call “streetwear”.

How has business been during the past few months and what are you doing to adapt?

Initially we were definitely anxious during the beginning stages of Safer at Home Orders, and, much like most businesses, we’ve shifted to being strictly online. We’ve doubled down on the customer experience and branding, showcasing the uniqueness of our company.
Black owned vintage
Obviously getting your retail fix in an old school bus is an amazing shopping experience and we didn’t want the online Backtrack experience to be underwhelming.
Black owned vintage
Our goal is to make receiving an order from us a complete experience, from the artwork on the outside of the bag to the items they’ve purchased within it.

If you could wake up tomorrow as an expert in any area of business, which would it be and why?

I’d have to say “communication.” In all aspects of running a business, communication is key. Whether it’s with customers, vendors, or employees if you can effectively communicate you will be effective at getting your desired outcome.

It’s something that I’ve forced myself to become better at over the years and it’s definitely paying off.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

The best advice I can give would be to realize that you don’t have to be better than the next person, but you do need to be different. Nobody likes a copycat.
You should try and figure out at least 10 things that make you different than the other businesses in your field, otherwise, you’re just another person selling the same old thing.
-Tony O. Lawson 

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Black Grocery Coop Celebrates 10 Years and an Expansion

Mandela Grocery is a Black Grocery coop that’s on a mission to nourish their neighborhood of West Oakland with healthy food, wellness resources, and collective ownership. Their full-service grocery store sources from entrepreneurs and farmers in California with a focus on black and brown farmers and food makers.

Prior to 2009, residents of West Oakland had to drive or take public transit to get groceries, or else resort to dollar stores and liquor stores for their grocery needs. Some might call it a food desert.

The Crew

Mandela Grocery calls it a site of “food apartheid” — that is, a place where systemic racism has shaped the neighborhood’s lack of access to fresh food.

Black Grocery Coop

Now, the worker-owned grocery store is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The anniversary comes at a time when the co-op is undergoing a lot of exciting change.

The market was recently renovated and got a brand-new logo. And since long-term subletter Zella’s Soulful Kitchen moved, Mandela Grocery has taken over the space’s commercial kitchen, called The Co-op Kitchen.

Black Grocery Coop

It offers a selection of grab-and-go sandwiches like turkey cheddar and chickpea salad, plus coffee. Plans are in the works to offer green smoothies, espresso drinks, hot foods like rotisserie chicken, and plenty of plant-based options.

“It feels like a new beginning with all the transition that we’re in,” said Adrionna Fike, one of the co-op’s 10 worker-owners.

The 10-year celebration took place on June 5th. and featured around 15 food vendors and live music.

Booths included healing massage, acupuncture, yoga, herbal medicine, cooking demonstrations, blender-bike smoothies, a women’s refuge trailer, free books, free barbers, and more.

Meanwhile, Mandela Grocery is also helping to spread the model of the worker-owned cooperative grocery store. In order to support new cooperatives, Mandela Grocery will offer training programs in its store for the members of a new grocery cooperative currently known as The East Oakland Grocery Co-op.

Black Grocery Coop

The new cooperative is spearheaded by Aya Jeffers-Fabro of Acta Non Verba, an urban youth farming program in Deep East Oakland. The store will carry produce from Acta Non Verba’s urban farms right in East Oakland. While Fike said the cooperative is still searching for a location, the store is expected to open in fall 2020.


Source: EastBayExpress

Feature Image Credit: SF Chronicle


28 Year Old Mayor Is Giving His City’s Poorest Residents $500 a Month

At age 28, Michael Tubbs easily qualifies as a political wunderkind. He’s received two degrees from Stanford, interned at the White House, secured a $10,000 donation from Oprah for his city council campaign, and been endorsed as a mayoral candidate by former president Barack Obama.

Michael Tubbs
Michael Tubbs Twitter (@MichaelDTubbs)

He also grew up in Stockton, California, a city he describes as “a place people run from rather than come back to.”

After being elected mayor of Stockton in 2017, Tubbs began floating a radical basic income policy to get the city back on track. The program is now more than two months underway and showing signs of success — but Tubbs thinks there’s a reason why it hasn’t caught on in other parts of the US.

Unlike homogeneous Scandinavian countries, Tubbs said, America has struggled to contend with widespread racial and economic diversity. This lack of empathy, he said, may have slowed our willingness to consider a universal basic income policy.

What sets Stockton apart is a combination of vision and desperation — a city on the brink of collapse and a mayor willing to try something drastic to hold it together.

Basic income policies have gained favor in Europe, but less so in the US

In February, Stockton began distributing $500 monthly stipends to its poorest residents through a basic income policy, which essentially pays someone for being alive. The policy’s critics claim that it reduces the incentive for people to find jobs, while supporters say it helps lift families out of poverty.

Michael Tubbs
Credit: AP News

The idea has mostly gained favor in Europe, where both Finland and Barcelona have launched basic income trials, and Sweden has set aside around $325,000 for a pilot experiment. In 2017, Ontario, Canada, also adopted a basic income program for around 4,000 participants, though the trial was cancelled about a year later.

As mayor, Tubbs piloted the first major basic income programin the US. The decision would have been considered bold for a seasoned government leader, let alone the one of the youngest in the nation.

But Tubbs said he didn’t give much thought to whether his idea would be controversial. “My team was more nervous than I was,” he said. “I honestly will tell you this, I didn’t really see much risk.”

What made him nervous, he said, was how untenable Stockton’s impoverished neighborhoods had become.

Stockton’s basic income pilot is showing small signs of success

The child of a teenage mother and incarcerated father, Tubbs grew up poor in an underfunded school system. As a college student, he lost a cousin to gun violence. In his lifetime, he’s had more men in his family sent to jail than to college.

In 2012, Stockton became the first city in the US to declare bankruptcy. Today, about a quarter of its population still lives below the federal poverty line. As mayor of a city that had essentially hit rock bottom, Tubbs was excited by the prospect of trying something different to combat inequality.

“I came into doing the pilot without a fully formed perspective — or as fully formed as it is now — but really more out of curiosity,” he said. “If this was a solution that could work, I wanted to test it out.”

But first, he had to get constituents on board. One benefit of governing a small city, he said, is that he could explain his idea to people one-on-one.

“Every time you do something new, it’s scary,” he said. “You have to convince people that, ‘No, it’s going to be okay. We’re going to be safe. And we’ll all be better off for it.'”

Tubbs’ basic income plan gives monthly stipends to 130 residents living at or below the city’s median income line(around $46,000 annually). The trial is expected to last for 18 months, and the stipends are distributed through the mail in the form of debit cards.

Because participants are randomly selected, Tubbs is forbidden from knowing who they are, but he said he’s heard anecdotally that people are using their money to pay their gas and electric bills, get their cars fixed, and take their children to the movies.

“I was very excited to see it already working and making a difference in so many people’s lives,” he said. “I’m now much more resolute in this idea that, if it’s not a panacea … it should be considered as one of the many solutions to ensure that people have an economic floor.”

America has been slow to test basic income because of its struggle with diversity, Tubbs said

According to Tubbs, there’s a reason why American cities haven’t entertained the solution of basic income before. Many Americans, he said, struggle to recognize that one person’s economic mobility can benefit another — something he believes other nations have figured out.

Tubbs believes that Scandinavian countries have recognized the need for a more robust social safety net — including universal healthcare and extensive parental leave policies — which makes it easier to approve other radical interventions down the line.

One explanation for these progressive policies, Tubbs said, is that Scandinavian countries are fairly homogeneous compared to the US. “In our country, we really have to contend with this idea of ‘the other,'” he said.

In his lifetime, Tubbs has found that people often conflate appearance with commonality. When people look different, he said, they tend to believe they have less in common, making it more difficult to empathize.

In his speech last week at the TED conference in Vancouver, Canada, Tubbs said the destiny of his city is “tied up in everyone — particularly those who are left on the side of the road.” His basic income policy is a product of this thinking: that a city that works for its poorest members can work for all.

Chicago could launch its own basic income pilot

With his wife expecting their first child, Tubbs said his mission to improve the lives of people in Stockton feels even more urgent as of late.

“Childcare costs are real,” he said. “We’re now looking at how are we going to save up to have somebody help us watch our child. It definitely has made me that much more passionate and that much more impatient with the status quo.”

Though Tubbs sees basic income as a solution to poverty, a city doesn’t need to be as poor as Stockton to benefit from the program, he said. The mayor also said basic income could work for larger cities struggling to combat inequality.

A task force in Chicago recently recommended that the citylaunch its own basic income pilot, which would provide 1,000 residents with $1,000 monthly payments for 18 months. Tubbs said he’s shared details of his experiment with Chicago, which he sees as a natural extension of his work.

“Small to medium sized cities have a role to play in terms of pushing our democracy forward,” he said. By testing out new ideas for larger cities to emulate, he said, they just might provide the tools for building fairer societies.


Source: Business Insider

Feature Image: Marla Aufmuth/TED


12 Nipsey Hussle Quotes About Business and Success

Last night I clicked on an old video interview Nipsey Hussle did discussing his business ventures. That video led me to another and then another. I’ve always been impressed by his drive and focus.

nipsey hussle
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Warner Music

Now, he’s gone. My way of paying tribute and my respects to someone who I was inspired by, is to provide some insight into the business acumen and intelligence of a man with so much potential, gone too soon.

Favorite Nipsey Hussle Quotes

“It sounds simple telling people to work hard and never quit, but to really execute and demonstrate those principles takes discipline and faith. Those are the two factors that I believe separate the good from the great; the successes from the failures.” 

nipsey hussle
Credit: GQ

“Be truthful with yourself and other people, and try your best to make decisions outside of your ego.”

“You aren’t a true leader without the ability to be honest and take responsibility for your actions.”

credit: the source

“It isn’t cool to be in the club spending all of this money, or having cars and jewelry — but you don’t own any real estate? You don’t own a fourplex? If the answer is no, you’re not a real hustler.”

“At on point I wasn’t proud of my lifestyle..Now I wake up knowing that I’m doing what I’m here to do.”

“I’m more focused on giving solutions and inspiration more than anything.” 

nipsey hussle
Credit: complex

“When you start seeing the most successful people and the most respected people, the next step is figuring out how they became that…As far as respect goes, we have to stop respecting dumb shit. We have to return to old school principles.”

We don’t want advances, we want equity. We don’t want one-off endorsements, we want ownership.”

“We’re creating an ecosystem, from production to consumption. Not only do we own the supply chain, but we can curate the experience. From the ownership of the actual master, to the retail experience and marketing the product, to consuming it. That’s the same model as Apple.”

Credit billboard

“The vision is to launch franchises. There’s such a narrative to this parking lot—that’s a part of my story as an artist.”

“Have a plan. Have a step by step list of things to do to get to your goal. If you don’t have that, its hard to have faith in what you’re doing.”

credit: facebook

“I’m focusing on the music, but I still got a cold library of books that I’ve either read or I plan on getting to.”




-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG@thebusyafrican)





Delta Airlines to Serve Wine from Black Owned Winery

During a surprise wine tasting at the San Francisco Delta Sky Club, Delta today announced a new partnership with Brown Estate, the first and only black-owned estate winery in California’s Napa Valley.

And as a toast to Black History Month, Brown Estate is making its first onboard appearance today in a surprise in-flight tasting for customers on Flight 1473 from San Francisco to New York-JFK.

The innovative idea to partner with Brown Estate started with Carlyne Scott, a member of Delta’s black community business resource group (BRG) and BRG Program Manager. Scott originally suggested the winery as a special for Black History Month, and that seed germinated into a larger relationship between Delta and the winery. Delta will feature Brown Estate wines in the winter of 2019-2020 as part of its commitment to supplier diversity.

“Partnering with innovative, diverse suppliers from certified small-, minority- and women-owned businesses like Brown Estate is fundamental to Delta’s strategy to keep climbing year-round,” said Heather Ostis, Vice President — Supply Chain Management. “Seeking employee perspectives and leveraging unique ideas brings us closer to meeting that goal, while creating the highest quality experience for our customers.”

After Scott’s suggestion, a selection of Brown Estate wines were passed to Andrea Robinson, Delta’s Master Sommelier, for consideration in the airline’s seasonally rotating wine menu. Robinson’s year-round wine selection process – including both in-the-air and terra-firming tastings—culminates annually with a final tasting of more than 1,500 bottles over one week. Only the very best selections earn Robinson’s stamp of approval. Two Brown Estate selections made the cut.

Domestic Delta One customers will see two Brown Estate wines on the winter 2019-2020 menu: 2017 Betelgeuse Sauvignon Blanc and 2017 Chaos Theory.

“We are delighted to partner with Delta Air Lines,” said Deneen Brown, president of Brown Estate. “Delta’s all-in commitments to the spirit of inclusion and to their wine program are perfectly aligned with our core values at Brown Estate.”

Chaos Theory, a well-balanced red blend of Merlot, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, greets the nose with a lively aroma of ripe Rainer cherries, blackberry compote, winter spice and heavy cream. Hints of Asian apple and Meyer lemon are followed by dark chocolate, tiramisu and fresh-baked croissants.

On a lighter note, Brown Estate describes its Betelgeuse Sauvignon Blanc as “endless summer in a bottle” — straw gold in color, with refreshing clarity. Tropical fruit comingles with subtle citrus, fever grass and lemon verbena, while night-blooming jasmine and honeysuckle are complemented by a cascade of stone fruit, lychee, pineapple and guava.


Source: Delta



Black Owned Food Stamp Startup to Deliver Food To Affected Govt Workers

mRelief, a startup focused on helping people access food stamps. has partnered with on-demand food delivery startup DoorDash. As federal workers — especially low-wage workers like janitors, cooks and security guards — recover from the 35-day partial government shutdown, mRelief and DoorDash and are teaming up to offer DoorDash credit to those eligible for food stamps in San Francisco.

mRelief Co-Founder and Executive Director Rose Afriyie (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

In San Francisco, about one in four people struggle with hunger, according to the SF-Marin Food Bank. Meanwhile, $13 billion in food stamps benefits are unclaimed every year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Because of the government shutdown, those low-wage workers are likely now eligible for food stamps, mRelief says.

“Our work at mRelief is about bringing the simplicity of technology typically used to provide on-demand services, to things that are critical needs,” mRelief co-founders Rose Afriyie (pictured above) and Genevieve Nielsen told TechCrunch via email.

Through startup mRelief, people with low incomes can easily figure out if they qualify for resources like food stamps, as well as other much-needed social services. Last January, mRelief launched an end-to-end process for people to enroll in the food stamp program in San Francisco. Once people complete the sign-up, qualified applicants can receive up to $35 in DoorDash credit as part of the collaboration.

“The value is that we are also trying to learn how this initiative might positively impact the process of applying for food assistance,” DoorDash Social Impact Manager Sueli Shaw said in a statement to TechCrunch.

First launched in 2014 as part of Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator, mRelief has helped people receive $65 million worth of food stamps across the nation.

Source: TechCrunch


Kendejah is the Bay Area’s First Liberian restaurant

Before you order at Kendejah — before you even ask questions about the dishes on the menu, in fact — Dougie Uso will distribute a laminated card to you and your fellow diners and ask you to read it. “A short history of Liberia & Kendejah,” it is titled: four paragraphs describing how free black Americans emigrated to West Africa starting in 1821 and, in 1847, created a political state.

Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

After 18 months in business, Uso, a 44-year-old with shoulder-length dreads and the slimmest shadow of West Africa in his speech, has condensed his introduction to Liberian food into a well-rehearsed patter, but it’s a critical one for first-timers to absorb so the dishes they see flipping through the menu make sense.

Owner Dougie Uso (center) chats with a takeout customers at Kendejah, the Bay Area’s only Liberian restaurant in San Leandro, California, on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018.Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

Kendejah is a mission-driven business, as the corporate giants like to say. There’s a lot for Uso to fit into his introduction: a slice of history most Americans don’t know, personal pride, a definition of the country’s food, a branding opportunity. The recent MBA grad is growth-minded, too, with a new food truck about to hit the streets. If you can’t make it to downtown San Leandro to take in a little Liberian culture, Kendejah will soon drive to you.

Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

In 1990, at the age of 15, Uso came to Oakland from Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, to visit his father, who had already moved to California. He never went back. During his stay, civil war broke out in Liberia — and lasted until he was 30. The conflict ended more than 150 years of relative peace in Liberia, killing as many as 200,000 and eviscerating the country’s finances and educational system.

In the East Bay, where his entire family found refuge, Uso says that he found the dislocation between the two cultures less dramatic than an outsider might expect. Monrovia was so entranced by New York hip-hop in the late 1980s that Uso entered Oakland High School writing his own raps and dancing East Coast moves that hadn’t yet made it to the West Coast. He graduated from high school and UC Berkeley, where he earned his bachelor’s in political science in the 1990s.

After 20 years in the car industry, first as a salesman and then in financing — watch him chat up newcomers, and an ease that comes from years on the sales floor is evident — Uso went back to school for his MBA.

Diane Wade (left) and Jennifer Gibbs dine at Kendejah in San Leandro, the Bay Area’s only Liberian restaurant. Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

Opening a Liberian restaurant, he says, was one plan of many he nursed during his studies. “I’m a walking idea machine,” he says. But it was the one he pursued first. The mother of his current chef, Miemie Johnson, spotted a vacant storefront in San Leandro’s Pelton Center. It took Uso a year to build a full kitchen and install plumbing and flooring. He hired a Liberian artist to paint portraits of the first eight Liberian presidents on the walls, and mounted a television on the wall that would play West African hip-hop videos.

Kendejah finally opened in March 2017. That first month, Uso says, Liberian immigrants made up 35 percent of his customers. But he knew that wouldn’t last. “Liberians know how to cook their own food,” he said. “You’re not cooking for 100 (out of 100) Liberians. You’re cooking for six Liberians, or on a good day, 10.”

Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

How should a child of Monrovia and Oakland, fluent in two cultures, teach Californians about Liberian cuisine, especially given how rare West African food is in the Bay Area? How should the food welcome them in and draw them back? What, in short, would Liberian American food look like?

Uso decided to emphasize the familiar, given West Africa’s influence on the cooking of the South and the larger lessons of Liberia’s history — of freedom and self-direction, of men and women who made it out of slavery and founded a country — that Uso wanted Americans to know. “Half of the foods we eat are traditional, as far as the cassava leaf, the palm butter stew, the palaver sauce,” he says. “Then the other half are fusion dishes that most Americans have had, maybe a different variation — for example, collard greens, fried okra, oxtails, eggplant and spinach. We just cook it with a little twist.”

The jollof rice dish, rice cooked with peppers and spices, at Kendejah in San Leandro, the Bay Area’s only Liberian restaurant. Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

He picked three dishes to build the menu around: braised oxtail, fried red snapper with tomato-pepper gravy, and jollof rice (Uso describes it as a “stir-fried jambalaya”; it’s rice cooked with peppers and spices) with chicken or vegetarian gravy. Then he had the cooks remove the spice — an auntie makes a habanero-and-smoked-herring paste if you want to add it back in — and, in some cases, meat and smoked fish.

It’s fascinating to see Uso’s effort to consciously create a Liberian American cuisine. In the Bay Area, where we make the decision to eat “Vietnamese” for lunch and “German” for dinner, what we so often mean are the totemic foods that these cuisines have been reduced to — tea salad for Burmese cuisine, say, or pupusas for Salvadoran. These dishes have become so familiar to outsiders that every cook and restaurateur has to make their peace with them. You can tell 1,000 tables that meals in Mexico don’t begin with chips and salsa, or you can put a basket of chips on the menu and charge them for their own ignorance.

By taking control of that abstraction process, Uso sees it as a business opportunity. “People say the food business is too hard,” he says. “Yes it is, if you’ve got a Vietnamese restaurant and there are 20 others. You’ve got a one-of-a-kind cuisine (like Liberian), it has to work out if the food is great.”

Dr. Frankie Moore (left) and the Rev. Barbara Galloway-Lee laugh as they dine at at Kendejah in San Leandro, the Bay Area’s only Liberian restaurant. Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

In a few weeks, the 26-foot food truck he just refitted — complete with fryers, ovens and an external TV screen to play music — will undergo its final health inspections. Uso is looking for a spot in Berkeley to park it and is telling all his customers to follow Kendejah on Instagram. Given his background in finance, he’s done the math, and figures the best way to get his Liberian cuisine out there is to set up a fleet of trucks. Kendejah in Berkeley. Kendejah in San Francisco. Kendejah in San Jose.

He recounts a story he heard from an Ethiopian restaurant owner in the store where he picks up his supplies. “She told me there was a guy who came here 40 years ago, and he was the first guy to open an Ethiopian restaurant. Now every American knows what Ethiopian food tastes like because of that one guy. That’s who I want to be.”

Where and when: 197 Pelton Center Way, San Leandro, 510-756-6049, Open 11:30 a.m.-10:00 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

Source : San Francisco Chronicle


Black Owned Businesses in California

If you’re interested in supporting some Black owned businesses in California we’ve got you covered. Take a look at just some of what The Golden state has to offer.

Black Owned Businesses in California

Black Owned Businesses in California


Black Owned Businesses in California
Red Bay Cafe

Red Bay Cafe

Miss Ollie’s

The Veg Hub

Lena’s Soul Food

Ovo Tavern & Eatery

Zella’s Soulful Kitchen

Black Owned Businesses in California
Zella’s Soulful Kitchen


S.T.A.Y. Dance Center

Flavors of East Africa

Royal Food Services and Catering

S.T.A.Y. Dance Center


My Two Cents

The Girl Cave LA Beauty Supply

My Two Cents

The Underground Museum

White Hall Arts Academy

Two Chicks in the Mix

Comfort LA

The Comedy Union

Sadou Hair Artistry

The Marathon Clothing

Two Chicks in the Mix


Isla Vida

Luxurious Nail Boutique

Isla Vida

Radio Africa Kitchen

Hazel Southern Bar & Kitchen

Hard Knox Cafe


Hazel Southern Bar & Kitchen
-Tony O. Lawson

Startup loans to Black Entrepreneurs to ‘interject some balance in capitalism’

GW “Chef” Chew loves to cook and is an ardent vegan. He combines the two passions through a new company, Something Better Foods, that has created a line of plant-based meats, from Philly cheesesteaks to fried chicken, as well as with a nonprofit Oakland restaurant, the Veg Hub.

black entrepreneurs
GW “Chef” Chew, who received a $20,000 loan from the Runway Project, creates sandwiches behind the counter of the Veg Hub in Oakland.
Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Chew needed financial backing to get Something Better off the ground. That’s where Oakland’s Runway Project stepped in and lent him $20,000.

“That money was a blessing,” he said. It helped him land a manufacturing site in Vallejo. Runway also helped with advice, coaching him on his business and marketing plans. He’s now raising more money to prepare for a distribution deal he landed with Whole Foods for next year.

Runway offers loans and other support to help black entrepreneurs start businesses. Many startups tap friends and family for early money, but minorities often don’t have well-heeled personal or professional networks. While the median net worth of white households is $171,000, that of black households is $17,200, according to the Federal Reserve.

The racial wealth disparity “is a big gap,” said Claudia Viek, founder of the Invest in Women Entrepreneurs Initiative, a nonprofit that is not affiliated with Runway. “Providing that early-stage, more-patient capital meets an acute need. It’s a way to interject some balance in capitalism.”

Runway founder Jessica Norwood calls the loans “believe-in-you money” but hastens to add: “It’s more than the money part. This is a story about what it means to be friends and family to one another, to be in deep community with each other. This is saying to folks who have been chugging away that we believe in them.”

The enterprises funded aren’t pitching the next big tech thing. Instead they’re Main Street stalwarts with products such as floral arrangements, fashion accessories, apparel, artisan juice, handmade pies and skin care creams.

Runway’s approach sounds terrific, said Ben Mangan, executive director of the Center for Social Sector Leadership at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, who has no ties to Runway.

“There’s a huge need for this kind of capital, and it’s almost impossible to find it,” he said. “We have a massive problem to solve when it comes to creating wealth for people who have a disproportionately small share. We need every smart, viable experiment we get.”

GW “Chef” Chew prepares a plant-based Philly cheesesteak sandwich at the Veg Hub in Oakland. Minorities often don’t have well-heeled personal or professional networks.Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Runway is small. It’s made 13 loans over the past year — and so far has a 100 percent repayment rate. But it has big ambitions to spread nationwide, and is currently raising money and developing a model for that.

Runway’s five-year, no-collateral loans carry a 4 percent interest rate, and repayments are interest-only the first two years.

The Self-Help Federal Credit Union administers the loans. Community members can support loans by taking out certificates of deposit at Self-Help. As with all CDs, their money is federally insured. In lieu of collateral from the entrepreneurs, Runway raised philanthropic money to act as a guarantee — for every $1 it lends, it has $1 sitting in an account at Self-Help as a backstop.

San Francisco’s RSF Social Finance provided some of that backstop capital.

GW “Chef” Chew explains the benefits of a plant-based diet to a customer at the Veg Hub in Oakland. The Runway Project provided advice to Chew, coaching him on his business and marketing plan. Photo: Photos by Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

“It was a real moment of joy for me and for Jessica to do that,” said Lynne Hoey, RSF’s senior director of credit, adding that there’s “a multibillion-dollar market opportunity to fund entrepreneurs” who otherwise are shut out.

Along with the Runway loans comes help in the form of retreats, peer support groups and weekly coaching from Oakland’s Uptima Business Bootcamp.

Uptima co-founder Rani Langer-Croager chairs Runway’s credit committee, helping to identify and screen loan applicants.

“These loans have provided immediate impact for each of these entrepreneurs we work with,” she said. “People who might previously have had to put inventory on a credit card were able to have more-favorable terms to open brick-and-mortar stores, to buy vehicles.”

One entrepreneur bought a truck for her mobile florist business; another bought a vehicle for business-to-business deliveries; another opened a mall kiosk for her beauty products, and another opened a lemonade stand in a kiosk on Valencia Street.

Moreover, the initial funding helped Runway’s early cohort raise at least $100,000 more in backing. “It takes money to raise money,” Langer-Croager said.

Stevonne Ratliff got a $20,000 Runway loan last year for Beija Flor Naturals,an eco-friendly line of beauty products.

“You need capital to expand, but it’s pretty difficult to find,” she said. She was making all her products by hand, so she couldn’t make enough to supply large retailers. The Runway money allowed her to outsource production of her two top sellers — hair care products Creme Brulee for Kinks, Curls and Coils and Maracuja Beauty Milk.

GW “Chef” Chew hands a drink to a customer at the Veg Hub in Oakland. The Runway Project helped Chew land a manufacturing site in Vallejo.
Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Besides offloading the “soul-draining” manufacturing, she appreciated the mentorship. “You have a group of advisers working together for your success,” she said. “They’re saying, ‘Go for this, we’re here to support you.’

“It gave me confidence to go for things I wouldn’t otherwise have gone for because I was so cash-strapped,” she said. She participated in Essence magazine’s annual festival in New Orleans, a high-end beauty show in New York and a pitch competition in Florida — which she won, landing a $25,000 grant. “When you have money in the bank and support, you feel a lot more confident,” she said.

Norwood summed Runway up like this: “We’re at the intersection of love, finance and culture. We don’t just look at products; we understand people at their core.”

Source: San Fransisco Chronicle


Black Owned $8 Lemonade Stand Embraces the Spotlight

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