DES MOINES, Iowa — Two and a half years ago, a pair of friends went from frequenting coffee houses to having their own coffee sold in stores nationwide.
Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson are the co-founders of BLK and Bold Specialty Beverages. When thinking about their humble beginnings they can’t help but smile.
“Neither Pernell or I had any formal experiences in the coffee or tea industry. We were just really over-enthusiastic consumers,” Johnson says. “We wanted to see what it would be like on the other side of the counter essentially.”
At their warehouse tucked away on the southwest side of Des Moines is where the company roasts, packages and ships their products from. BLK and Bold isn’t just a product but a statement.
“It’s a double entendre. From the product in the bag, black coffee, black tea, bold flavoring but it also represents who we are as entrepreneurs, as people,” describes Johnson. “Black men who are on a bold journey to make a difference.”
Since launching the company in 2018, the pair have sold more than 275,000 bags and signed on with major retailers like Hy-Vee, Whole Foods, Target, and Amazon. BLK and Bold is the first African – American owned and nationally distributed coffee brand in America.
“Representation matters, period,” says Johnson. “I’ve been Black forever and so I don’t really define my efforts and moves as Black first, but I do recognize people on the outside looking in see that.”
The shift in the national conversation and the push to “buy Black” has drawn more people to their product; a product that doesn’t just benefit coffee-lovers. Proceeds from coffee sales are given to at-risk youth programs both here and around the country. Programs both Johnson and Pernell benefited from having grown-up in Gary, Indiana.
“Us being Black men. Us coming from the upbringing of minorities. Anywhere someone can relate to what we are doing by the way of seeing themselves is hugely important for us,” says BLK and Bold co-founder, Pernell Cezar.
It’s an idea fueled by caffeine and one they hope continues to help the community.
“People are connected to what we are doing in the way we hoped. The more we can build a community who thinks differently by the way of their interaction with us is a seed planted for the future,” says Cezar.
The company employs more than a dozen people and has plans to expand the sale of its products to more major retailers.