Using Coffee to Make a Difference with BLK & Bold
Canteen’s supplier diversity mission is to proactively identify, build relationships with, and purchase goods from certified diverse suppliers. We sat down with Rod Johnson and Pernell Cezar, the owners of BLK & Bold, to discuss their coffee and tea, entrepreneurial spirit, and drive to support at-risk youth.
Pernell and Rod, why and how did you start BLK & Bold?
BLK & Bold, the first Black-owned nationally distributed specialty coffee company, was founded by two best friends, turned co-founders, who grew up on the same block in Gary, Indiana. Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson both boast lengthy corporate resumes but always had the desire to leverage those skills to build something for themselves. Something that ultimately would help people that look like them and that are faced with similar obstacles as they were. As self-described over-enthusiastic coffee and tea consumers, they strived to create more representation on the other side of the counter while providing a specialty product. There was also the opportunity to tackle the white space of top-shelf coffee. Rod and Pernell bet that there were more consumers (like themselves) who drank top-shelf liquor and would prefer a top-shelf coffee option at home too.
When the opportunity presented itself to build upon their 20-year friendship and become business partners, they focused on embedding purpose as a key tentpole of their disruptive and innovative brand. With a mission of supporting at-risk youth in underserved communities, in just two years, the brand has grown exponentially and provides continued support for the brand’s 5% for Youth initiative.
You have a passion for supporting at-risk youth. In what way does the BLK & BOLD brand stand for that passion?
We feel an obligation to equip young people with tools to live their best lives and overcome familiar unfortunate circumstances by turning a daily ritual, enjoying a cup of coffee & tea, into a means of giving back. When we founded BLK & Bold, we knew having a purpose-driven brand with a robust social giveback initiative embedded in our DNA was a key priority. As a young Black-owned brand, we know how important community programs are to youth in at-risk environments; we built work with a partnership network to directly support local communities in the areas the brand engages with.
How have these efforts evolved since BLK & BOLD’s inception?
As our Company grows, we continue to further our brand’s mission and provide continued support for our 5% for Youth initiative. We are proud to be able to expand the program along with our brand and have several upcoming exciting initiatives that really ups the ante on our donation efforts throughout the year.
If you could only drink one of your roasts again, which would you pick? What about teas?
Rod – Rise & GRND, Green Chai tea. Brewed hot, preferably.
Pernell – Rise & GRND, Moroccan Mint tea. Both brewed hot.
Hot, iced, or cold brew?
Hot, hot, hot! 🙂
BLK & BOLD recently became B Corp certified. Can you explain what that means and why it matters to you and your brand?
As a purpose-driven brand from inception, we have always focused on incorporating our mission of supporting at-risk youth in underserved communities. From the beginning, we knew pursuing both Fair Trade and B Corp certifications were going to be crucial components for our brand. From our initial brand launch in June of 2018, we prioritized a Fair-Trade certified assortment, and we achieved our B Corp status in September of 2020.
We are incredibly proud of our Fair Trade and B Corp achievements, as it provides additional proof points to both our retail partners and consumers supporting our dedication to being changemakers within our local community and beyond. Additionally, these certifications ensure our supply chain is ethical and sustainable, which is an absolute necessity for us as we strive to operate with the utmost integrity through every channel of our business.
Your site has a few out-of-the-box coffee recipes, any tips or tricks you can share on making an exceptional cup?
Any recipe, regardless of how traditional or unconventional, hinges on the foundation of the drink: well-brewed coffee. In that case, the water-to-coffee ratio is key, depending on your preferred brewing method (French press, pour-over, espresso, etc.). Master that first and from there, let your imagination run wild.
As entrepreneurs of, really, an incredible startup, what advice do you have for others interested in doing the same?
Be bold. Closed minds close opportunities. Closed mouths mute growth. We’ve all been in the place of not wanting to raise our hand or speak up when something is unclear or doesn’t seem right. Because of that, we all know how unsettling that silence can feel based on the severity of the situation. While the solution of speaking up is simple, the action can be seemingly hard. However, over time the action becomes normalized, and the impact of doing so becomes more profound and prepares you to overcome future challenges, such as team management, negotiating deals, standing up for your values, or challenging another closed-minded perspective. Simply put, being bold = growth, for you and for others.
How do you see the changing landscape of coffee moving into the future?
We see the landscape evolving in consumer education of the “what and why” behind the quality levels of coffee. Many consumers have a dedicated relationship with consuming coffee, but a very narrow/transactional relationship with the education of the crop and diversity of experience from black coffee available to be had. As consumers become more aware of the broader spectrum of black coffee options to play/drink just by way of the sourcing and roasting processes used, they will mature their expectations of what they are willing to pay and their want to normalize access to a broader range of quality/premium options within the mass/grocery space. We look at this akin to turning a commodity consumer experience into a more elevated and accessible experience, akin to a wine destination within the location’s consumers shop their greater grocery lists.