These Founders Are Grinding Out a Space in the Coffee Market

BLK & Bold: Pioneering Premium Coffee and Social Impact

Two friends from Indiana had a dream: to bring premium coffee to the supermarket and help at-risk youth. They started BLK & Bold, a company that has not only disrupted the coffee market but also made significant contributions to community welfare.

The Genesis of BLK & Bold

In the beginning, there was coffeeโ€”a lot of coffee. Pernell Cezar consumed gallons of it on his many business trips while working in merchandising at Target in the 2010s. “Coffee,” he says, “is what fueled me.” But it wasn’t just coffee that drove Cezar. During his time at Target, he observed the barriers that entrepreneurs, especially Black and Brown ones, faced in accessing capital. Possessing an entrepreneurial streak himself, in 2017, he approached his best friend, Rod Johnson, with an idea.

The Spark of Inspiration

Cezar and Johnson, who grew up together in Gary, Indiana, decided to start a business built on a mission to fund programs for at-risk kids. Inspiration struck Cezar one day in a high-end coffee shop. His idea was simple yet unique: bring super-premium coffee to supermarkets and donate 5 percent of revenue to programs for underserved kids. “Coffee was appealing because of the low barriers of entry,” says Johnson.

The Birth of BLK & Bold

Founded in 2018 and based in Des Moines, BLK & Bold was born. The duo pooled $22,000 of “bonus-check money” and set out to carve a space for an altruistic disrupter in the $95 billion U.S. coffee sector. Cezar spent the prior year attending coffee-making seminars, watching YouTube videos, and researching how to import beans. He bought tabletop roasters, traveled to a coffee importer, procured 150 pounds of beans, and started grinding out a business in his Des Moines garage from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. There was a lot of trial and error. “The first batch I brewed, I unplugged,” he recalls, “because I couldn’t figure out how to turn the roaster off.”

Building the Business

Business began to percolate as they initially sold online and to cafรฉs. They worked a social media campaign to build brand awareness. They sublet 700 square feet of space in a brewery, bought a floor roaster to boost production, and secured an Iowa small-business loan. Their first big break came in January 2020 when they made it onto the shelves at Target. “Most brands that are on the shelf have been acquired. You don’t see independently owned national brands in the coffee aisle,” says Cezar. BLK & Bold was the exception to that.

Milestones and Growth

A significant turning point came in 2020, following the George Floyd murder, which sparked a call for support of Black-owned businesses. This led to a partnership with Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator. By 2022, BLK & Bold was posting revenue of $8.5 million and projected $12 million for the following year. The brand is now sold in 11,000 stores nationwide and counts the NBA, Marvel, and Keurig as partners.

Looking Ahead

Despite their success, Cezar is far from done. His plans include eventual brick-and-mortar shops. After all, the coffee market, he notes, “is very fluid.”

Company Profile

  • Company Name: BLK & Bold
  • CEO: Pernell Cezar
  • Category: Food & Beverages
  • Three-Year Revenue Growth: 7,404%
  • 2022 Revenue: $8.5 million
  • Projected 2023 Revenue: $12 million
  • Stores Nationwide: 11,000

Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson’s journey from consuming coffee to creating a socially responsible coffee brand is a testament to their entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to community welfare. BLK & Bold continues to pave the way for independently owned brands in the coffee aisle, proving that business success and social impact can go hand in hand.

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