Browse Tag

coffee shop

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Meet The Man Who Has Launched Three Successful Coffee Businesses

Russell Wiggins is the owner of Russell’s Gourmet Coffee, an Atlanta, GA based coffee and beverage service and distribution company.

Russell has launched multiple brands for others under his company. We caught up with him to find out more about his business model and how things are going during this recent wave of support for Black-owned businesses.

Russell Wiggins

What inspired you to start your coffee business?

I was inspired to get in the coffee industry after learning about corporate and federal contracting while working at Xerox Corp. and noticing that coffee was that one consistent commodity being consumed in every office I visited.

I also realized there were no Black-owned coffee companies going after beverage service contracts. We were mostly in technology, janitorial, or security. So I teamed up with a couple of my business friends to start a coffee company in San Francisco, California to compete for corporate and federal contracts.

This led me to learn so much more about the coffee industry, the beans, and the business. As a result, I became fascinated with the entire industry and I was hooked after that.

Russell’s Gourmet Coffee

What sets your coffee apart from others on the market?

Russell’s Gourmet Coffee is a whole lifestyle brand for true coffee enthusiasts, as well as the novice. We offer gourmet coffee beans roasted to perfection, and all of our coffee is roasted to order for the freshest, most robust taste. We have a roasting profile that leaves our beans full of flavor with a smooth taste.

We combine top-quality Arabica beans with our secret roasting profile to unlock the sweet flavors specific to each bean.

Our beans are cultivated using environmentally sustainable methods without chemicals and additives to make every cup great for you and the environment.

Then, Russell’s Gourmet Coffee is packaged and labeled to your specs and delivered to your desired location. We take pride in making sure that quality is at the core of everything we do.

How did you get involved with Kim Fields and Peter Thomas to start their coffee businesses?

Peter and I became friends when I moved to Atlanta nine years ago from San Francisco. We met at an industry party and became fast friends.

Once he found out I was in the coffee industry, I approached him about a private label under his name for a Jamaican rum flavored coffee.

Russell’s Gourmet Coffee
Peter Thomas, left, with Cynthia Bailey and Russell Wiggins
It was a great partnership that landed the coffee on The Real Housewives of Atlanta. I was introduced to Kim Fields and her husband Chris Morgan while in Jamaica filming for RHOA. Chris and I just clicked and have become the best of friends.
Russell’s Gourmet Coffee
Kim loves coffee and was interested in establishing her own private label,  Signature blends by Kim Fields, under the Russell Gourmet Coffee umbrella.
Now, Kim and I have been partners for about 3 years. Kim and Chris always dreamed of owning a coffee shop and I was already in the business so it was a partnership destined to happen.

What has the response been since we included you on our list of coffee brands?

I have been pleasantly overwhelmed by the amazing support we have received as a result of the Black Lives Matter protests. In fact, our site crashed for nearly an hour after Starbucks denied their employees from wearing any BLM paraphernalia in their stores.

People were outraged and looking for another alternative. That was Russell’s Gourmet Coffee. Being added to your Black-owned coffee lists has been absolutely phenomenal. Media exposure has been a huge help for the brand as well.

It helped to introduce the brand to a lot of new people and coffee drinkers.  So to be added to your platform was a blessing. We are looking to expand our volume sales.

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

Ultimately, I want to see this company grow to a supernova level. Over the next 5 years, we plan to expand our volume sales by getting into grocery stores and more corporate environments.

I would also like to become a resource for other Black people who want to get into the coffee industry.I currently work in local Atlanta schools educating kids about entrepreneurship through coffee bean cultivation, roasting profiles, and the history of the commodity.

I also teach the kids how to sell iced coffee for school fundraisers. Russell’s Gourmet Coffee can be a catalyst for change in the way Black people think about entrepreneurship and socio-economics.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

The advice I would give to future entrepreneurs would be to believe in yourself more than anybody else ever will. People won’t remember the days when you are hungry or the days when you’ve lost all your money and had to start over again and again.

But if you keep the faith and believe in your talents, you will be successful. It is always important to remember success is not always measured by the amount of money in your bank account, but by the number of people whose lives you have positively impacted on your journey.

Tony O. Lawson


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Black Owned Coffee Business Sees 350% Increase In Online Sales

With so many people forced to stay at home because of the pandemic, Red Bay Coffee, a Black owned coffee business with six retail outlets and a roasting plant, is seeing a huge spike in e-commerce coffee sales.

In fact, Keba Konte, the owner and founder of Red Bay Coffee, located in Oakland, California, said e-commerce sales have spiked a whopping 350% (not a typo). Previously, that was the smallest segment of its various revenue streams.

black owned coffee
Keba Konte

The spike stems from the fact that much of its Silicon Valley audience is now drinking coffee at home and having their coffee beans shipped directly to them.

“Then there’s another group who were drinking our coffee at our cafés, and we had to close most of them,” Konte added. They too have turned to having their coffee beans shipped.

Its six cafes normally generate about 35% of its overall revenue, but that has dipped considerably. Moreover, grocery sales are also up, though he laments that it’s always a challenge breaking into new supermarkets.

About 17% of its overall sales stem from supermarkets including Whole Foods and Safeway. It’s also sold on Amazon AMZN and CoffeeGoGo, and 95% of its sales stem from people from California.

Its six retail stores including three in Oakland, two in San Francisco, and one in Richmond, California, were all shut down for a time. But two in Oakland have reopened for curbside dining and mobile orders.

Its coffee is roasted in its plant, adjacent to one of its Oakland retail stores. Its two largest selling coffees are King’s Prize, a single-origin Ethiopian coffee and East 14th, a Tanzanian coffee named after a large street in Oakland in a tough neighborhood that was renamed International Boulevard.

At that retail store in Oakland, it also has a 7,000-square foot venue where it offered events such as live music, films, and held weddings, in what Konte described as an “industrial chic design.”

“We did 250 events last year,” said Konte, who is 53-years-old. All have been forced to close because of social distancing rules due to the pandemic crisis.

The pandemic has scaled back its business, other than e-commerce sales. “Our office coffee service shut down overnight, the events came to a screeching halt, and the cafes all shut down,” he noted.

One innovative move of Konte’s was introducing a mobile van coffee service, prior to the pandemic striking. “Half of that was luck,” he acknowledged, “and half of it was having the foresight to understand the value of a mobile option.”

He’s been parking it near heavily trafficked supermarkets such as Costco and Trader Joe’s and business is booming there. “It’s been a lifeline and great brand exposure,” he said.

Moreover, he expanded what it sold on the van beyond coffee to include cases of its tea products and cartons of oat milk. “We sold it through six-foot distances and cashless transactions on the van, “he said.

He’s already acquired a second van and is looking into launching it this summer.

He’s also introduced bulk sales via e-commerce. For example, its five pound-bags of coffee are selling very well as people stock up with groceries at home.

Konte has a varied coffee background. He founded Guerilla Café in North Berkeley, California in 2006 and spearheaded serving Blue Bottle Coffee, now a well-known national chain.

But what Konte really wanted to do was start his own coffee company. He launched Red Bay Coffee in 2014 because he wanted to bring “specialty coffee to a more accessible, broader, more diverse audience previously not catered to.”

Konte thought it was important for an African-American-owned coffee company to thrive. “Coffee is Africa’s gift to the world. It originated in Ethiopia. Coffee is, in a sense, our heritage,” he pointed out.

Red Bay Coffee, he noted, is one of the few coffee companies in the U.S. that is “marketing to African American people.” On its social media sites, about 60% of its followers are African-American women, and approximately 50% of its traffic at retail stores is African-American customers.

Raising enough money to start it required ingenuity and fortitude. Eventually, Konte raised $7 million through a combination of bootstrapping, crowd funding through Kickstarter and WeFunder, convertible notes from angel investors, and most recently, venture capital funding.

At its height, Red Bay Coffee had 70 employees, but when the pandemic curtailed business, it cut back to 20 employees. When the pandemic hit and stores closed, retail sales plummeted 85% but with some reopened, it’s down about 40%, he said.

The pandemic has forced it to become more efficient than in the past. “In the future, we have the muscle to push ourselves into various channels, and yet we’re still small enough to be nimble to adapt to the current environment,” he said.

Source: FORBES


Related: Black Owned Coffee and Tea Businesses


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How This Black Owned Coffee Business is Thriving Through a Pandemic

Red Bay Coffee is a Black-owned, wholesale specialty coffee roasting company based in Oakland, California.

They import and have direct relationships with coffee farmers in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia, Guatemala, Brazil and Colombia.

The company was founded by Keba Konte, who launched it out of his home back in 2014.

Keba Konte

Pre pandemic, Red Bay served as a community hub hosting events, including food popups, concerts, magazine releases, panel discussions, and self-care festivals.

During the first few months of the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent “stay-at-home” mandates,  business slowed dramatically. Red Bay experienced a drastic reduction in their wholesale office service and cafe service. This prompted the decision to refocus on selling via their website and doing more social media marketing.

Before the pandemic, e-commerce was the smallest segment of Red Bay’s various revenue streams. Now, as a result of so many people being forced to stay at home, online sales have grown 350%.

The increase stems from the fact that much of its Silicon Valley audience is now drinking coffee at home and having their coffee beans shipped directly to them.

“Then there’s another group who were drinking our coffee at our cafés, and we had to close most of them,” Konte added. They too have turned to having their coffee beans shipped.

The pandemic has forced it to become more efficient than in the past. “In the future, we have the muscle to push ourselves into various channels, and yet we’re still small enough to be nimble to adapt to the current environment,” he said.

Visit Red Bay coffee online and subscribe to their monthly service.
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Black Owned Coffee and Tea Businesses That are Great Alternatives to Starbucks

In 2018, a Philadelphia Starbucks employee called the police on two Black patrons. Their crime? Waiting for a friend. The cops still arrested them.

More recently, Starbucks sent an internal memo to its employees banning them from wearing accessories or clothing that shows support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

BuzzFeed News obtained the memo, which reminded staffers of the company’s accessories policy that forbids accessories that “advocated a political, religious or personal issue.” A number of employees told the outlet that the company commonly permits and even advocates that employees don pro-LGBTQ+ pins, particularly during Pride Month in June.

When next you feel the need for some Starbucks, you may want to consider these Black Owned Coffee and Tea Businesses instead.

Black Owned Coffee and Tea Businesses

Grind House Coffee Co. (Huber Heights, OH) offers differing blends and flavors from as far away as southeast Asia to the mugs of Daytonians, as well as customers across the U.S. through online sales.

South LA Cafe (Los Angeles, CA) provides coffee, tea, and healthy and affordable food options to the South LA community.

Uprising Muffin Company (Washington DC) offers homemade muffins, coffee, sandwiches & salads served in a relaxed setting with comfy seating.

Northwest Coffee Roasting Company (Clayton, MO) is an artisan coffee roaster that embodies the legacy of coffee by unifying communities, stimulating dialogue, and providing hand roasted and brewed full city coffee.

Teatopia (St Louis, MO) offers 70 different teas as well as other small food items that will leave you amazed and wanting more.

TeaLee’s Tea House & Bookstore (Denver, CO) provides high-quality loose leaf teas, food, and specialty drinks, including beer and wine in an afro-centric atmosphere.

Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books (Philadelphia, PA) is a cool coffee shop and bookstore that also hosts live events like book signings and movie screenings.

Sip & Savor (Chicago, IL) offers the finest certified fair trade coffee from around the world, as well as a wide selection of teas, mochas, lattes, and blended drinks. They also serve delicious pastries and small bites from local bakeries.

Black Swan Espresso (Newark, NJ) is Newark’s first Specialty Coffee and Tea Shop. They specialize in using the highest quality international coffee beans in all their roasts.

Red Bay Coffee (Oakland, CA) is building a global community through our commitment to sourcing, developing, roasting, and delivering the best and most beautiful coffee to the people.

Upper Cup Coffee Co. (Columbus, OH) offers house-roasted espressos & creative pours are the focus of this brick-walled cafe with sandwiches.

Whittier Cafe (Denver, CO) is an artsy coffee shop with a lending library & a cozy patio serving espresso-based drinks & cafe fare.

Black Owned Coffee and Tea Businesses

Sankofa Video Books & Cafe (Washington, DC) is a relaxed coffeehouse offering light cafe bites plus African-focused books & film screenings.

Cuples Tea House (Baltimore, MD) is a family-owned and operated tea business offering featuring premium loose leaf teas, tea accessories, and culture in a socially connected atmosphere.

Kaffeine Coffee Internet & Office Cafe (Houston, TX) is a relaxed, funky cafe featuring coffee, sandwiches & baked goods, plus Wi-Fi & printing services.

Not So Urban Coffee & Roastery (Oxford, GA) is a small batch micro roaster specializing in responsibly, ethically & sustainably sourced coffee from Africa, South/Central America, and Asia.

Golden Thyme Coffee & Cafe (St Paul, MN) is an easygoing place with a warm vibe offering a variety of coffee blends named after your favorite jazz artists, bagels, cakes, and many other delightful treats.

More Than Java Cafe’ (Laurel, MD) is a vibrant outpost featuring classic cafe dishes, espresso drinks & ice cream, plus live music nights.

Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse (Philadelphia, PA) is a comic book store and coffee shop hybrid that offers everything from comics, toys, games, and figurines, to coffee & espresso related beverages, and baked goods.

Ain’t She Sweet Cafe (Chicago, IL) is a casual, cozy eatery offering counter-serve sandwiches, smoothies & house-baked desserts.

Cafe Dejena (Oakland, CA) is a local Eritrean café that offers dine-in meals all day, grab & go for those on the run, and catering for small events.

Beyu Caffe (Durham, NC) is an upbeat, bohemian hangout offering coffee, all-day American fare, a full bar, live jazz & free WiFi.

Boon Boona Coffee (Seattle, WA) sources the finest coffee, from the birthplace of coffee, East Africa.

DC Conscious Cafe (Washington, DC) is “more than a cafe”. They offer good food, dialogue, entertainment, civic engagement, and advocacy for the good of our community.

Serengeti Teas & Spices (New York, NY) introduces the history, magic, sumptuous taste, and exotic flavors of Africa via signature coffees, teas, cocoas & spices.

Rise and Grind Café (Milwaukee, WI) offers hot and cold sandwiches, soups, breakfast items. They also offer catering and meal planning services.

Calabash Teahouse & Cafe (Washington, DC) is a popular teahouse ready to help you with foods & teas for dynamic living.

Urban Grind Coffee House (Atlanta, GA) is a hip coffeehouse with cafe menu & free WiFi holds film screenings, poetry slams & other arty events.

Just Add Honey Tea Company (Atlanta, GA) is a sophisticated twist on a southern tea tradition we offer thoughtfully blended loose leaf teas made in small batches to ensure the perfect cup cheers!

Tsion Cafe & Bakery (NY) is a petite, stylish cafe featuring contemporary Ethiopian cuisine in a warm space with patio seating.

Culture Coffee Too (Washington, DC) is a coffee shop, art gallery, live performance venue, and event space, with a mission to bring delicious coffee, and diverse culture to the Washington, DC community.

 

-Tony O. Lawson

If you would like to add your business to this list (or another) SUBMIT HERE.


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Marc Lamont Hill Opens a Coffee Shop & Bookstore in Philadelphia

Marc Lamont Hill introduces us to his new business, Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books and explains why we should all Shoppe Black.

Visit Uncle Bobbies online or at 5445 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19144

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafrican)