When Keba Konte, an artist, social activist and longtime San Francisco Bay Area resident decided to invest in a small café to promote his photographic work, few realized where that step would lead. The café was successful in promoting his artistic work but the drive and instincts that lead him to photograph Nelson Mandela’s South African miracle must have revealed to him that revolution and innovation are often two sides of the same coin. His drive and keen entrepreneurial instincts allowed him to open Red Bay Coffee, a legitimate challenger to Peet’s and even Starbucks.
By Ralph Emerson
Working in his café, Keba picked up many of the intricacies of the coffee business from his suppliers. Upon additional research he learned that coffee is a multibillion dollar global enterprise which started in Africa and continues there today.
However, the bounty of this industry is not evenly shared. Coffee importers, commodities exchanges, retail product manufacturers and café chains consume most of the revenue leaving little for growers and even less for field workers.
Keba learned to his horror that the appalling business of slave labor was present in some parts of the industry.
Since the days of Booker T. Washington, African Americans have long harbored strong interests in entrepreneurialism. According to Black Enterprise, “While US entrepreneurship has declined in the past 30 years, entrepreneurial activity in the African American community has increased. The problem is access to capital. Black entrepreneurs start businesses, but—often—do not have access to the capital necessary to market and grow those businesses over time.”
With all the difficulties African American business people face, Keba pressed on and opened two additional specialty restaurants. These restaurants were successful but be that as it may, Keba felt that there was a greater opportunity in the coffee market not only to brew great coffee and profit but also to become a community asset and effect social change. So, he began to learn more about roasting and soon became schooled in the coffee arts.
The opportunity lead him to open his own coffee roasting business and he started supplying restaurants, coffee houses and corporate offices in the San Francisco and Oakland areas… and thus was born Red Bay Coffee.
Based in Oakland, CA, Red Bay Coffee uses a unique business model that invests in its employees and in their community by paying above minimum wage and using profit sharing to award employees a percentage of the company’s profits. Keba makes a point to hire women, minorities and even those who have recently been incarcerated.
At the main facility, the company supports events and public gatherings. The company has cultivated close relationships with Bay Area tech giants and socially responsible companies.
Keba harnessed the power of crowd funding to expand Red Bay Coffee and has added several East Bay retail coffee bars.
After two Black men were arrested last month at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, Starbucks responded by making plans to close 8,000 stores on May 29th for a racial bias training. The incident prompted consumers and activists to #BoycottStarbucks and consider alternatives like Red Bay Coffee. According to Kobe, “business is up substantially since the incident”
Red Bay Coffee recently received praise by actor Wendell Pierce, which prompted a tweet storm requesting that Red Bay Coffee expand across the country.
Red Bay Coffee just concluded a first round venture capital funding of some $5 million dollars. This investment will allow the company to expand to several East Coast markets.
So if you are looking for a socially responsible coffee company, check out Red Bay Coffee… and they deliver!