America’s first Black-owned nationally distributed coffee brand is leveraging growth for community impact

BY Preta Peace Namasaba February 6, 2024 7:12 AM EDT
Blk & Bold, founded by Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson, is the first nationally-distributed coffee brand founded by Black people. Photo Credit: Blk & Bold

The founders of BLK & Bold, Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson have a unique approach to entrepreneurship. They have created a highly profitable coffee and tea company that doubles as a social enterprise. The first Black-owned, nationally distributed coffee brand, BLK & Bold is available in more than 11,000 retail stores and is one of the fastest growing companies in America.

But Cezar and Johnson are selling more than people’s favorite beverages. They are looking to support causes that bring people together too.

“Real change comes when common people can unite over common things to make uncommon progress. Our focus is to normalize how everyday people contribute to the benefit of their communities via connecting common purchases back to relevant impact,” Johnson explained the role BLK & Bold is playing in the community.

Cezar and Johnson had the appropriate background to start and scale an enterprise. Cezar started his career in retail merchandising and became interested in influencing and building brands at scale. As senior director of sales for Sundial Brands, he was responsible for national retail accounts sales and business development, the brand’s launch at Ulta, and developing and managing the sales partnerships with retailers. On the other hand, Johnson has decades of experience as a professional fundraiser for academic and health care institutions across America.

The two childhood friends started BLK & Bold from Cezar’s garage in 2018 with a small, tabletop roaster. They bootstrapped the company with $22,000 in bonus checks from their former jobs. Cezar and Johnson experimented with their product, grew the product range, eventually acquired a larger roaster and moved to larger premises. Their hard work paid off, with revenues growing to $8.5 million within two years.

To grow their business, the duo participated in the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s Targeted Small Business (TSB) program and received a microloan from the Iowa Center for Economic Success. These programs enabled the company access additional early stage capital and helped finance its first commercial roasters. From being a solely online business, BLK & Bold was able to expand its retail presence with increased manufacturing and distribution.

“We built this business to be an example for others that you can prioritize purpose as well as profit. It gives the community a glimmer of hope. It gives them something to latch onto during these trying times, that through their everyday practices, their daily ritual, so to speak, that it’s much greater than just that cup of coffee,” Rod Johnson said about why they founded BLK & Bold.

The company experienced unprecedented growth during the pandemic. It became a certified B corporation and the first Black-owned nationally distributed coffee brand. Between 2019-2022, BLK & Bold grew by 7,404% and was Iowa’s fastest-growing private business. This boom in business earned the company highly lucrative partnerships with Marvel, Ben & Jerry’s and the NBA. The NBA deal resulted in two new bagged, NBA-themed coffees and access to brand development opportunities.

BLK & Bold products are currently available at regional grocers and more than 11,000 mass retailers such as Target, Whole Foods, Safe Way, Hy-Vee and Amazon. The company is the official coffee supplier for Microsoft’s headquarters, the NBA’s headquarters in New Jersey and New York and serves several big corporations through foodservice companies. Its products are also globally available on military bases. The BLK & Bold coffee portfolio includes packaged whole bean/ground, single serve pods, and ready-to-drink cold brew.

The company has fostered strong relationships with the community, its customers and partners. Coffee sales have powered its vision of supporting under-resourced youth. The BLK & Bold “For Our Youth” program donate 5% of gross profits to nonprofit organizations facilitating programs that support youth across America. America’s first Black-owned, nationally distributed coffee brand is using its platform and initiatives to effect change.