Sep 12, 2023 - Business

BLK and Bold is Iowa's fastest-growing company

Rod Johnson and two cans of BLK and Bold Cold Brew

Rod Johnson (left) and BLk & Bold Cold Brew (right). Photos: Courtesy of BLK & Bold

BLK & Bold, a local Black-owned coffee company, was Iowa's fastest-growing private business between 2019-2022 by growing 7,404%, according to Inc. 5000's 2023 list.

Why it matters: People don't often associate thriving Black-owned businesses with Iowa — especially since the state's population is nearly 90% white, co-founder Rod Johnson tells Axios.

  • But by operating and growing out of Des Moines, the business has thrived and been able to dedicate 5% of its gross profits to nonprofits helping at-risk youth around the U.S.

Driving the news: Expanding the company's retail presence, as well as its manufacturing and distribution, helped fuel BLK & Bold's quick growth, Johnson says.

State of play: What started as an online-only business in 2018 has grown to having products in 8,000+ retail stores, including Target, Walgreens, Albertsons, Safeway and Hy-Vee, as well as partnerships with Marvel and the NBA.

How it started: Childhood friends and entrepreneurs Pernell Cezar and Johnson started the company from Cezar's garage with a small, tabletop roaster.

  • As they experimented with their product and grew, they acquired a larger roaster and worked in the back of Fox Brewing in West Des Moines.
  • Then in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic and the national protests following the murder of George Floyd by police, their online business exploded.

Between the lines: They became the first Black-owned nationally distributed coffee company in 2020, as well as a certified B corporation — joining companies like TOMS and Ben & Jerry's to show their commitment to improving social and environmental impact. ,.

By the numbers: After pooling together $22,000 in bonus checks from former jobs to start the company, its revenue grew to $8.5 million in 2020 and is projected to reach $12 million this year, Johnson says.

  • The company has 24 employees and operates out of a 33,000-square-foot warehouse in Des Moines' southside.

What they're saying: "(Ben & Jerry's is) a social-impact company that just so happens to sell ice cream, and ultimately, that's what we want to be, but in the coffee space," Johnson says.

What's next: The duo wants to own their own brick-and-mortar cafes within the next three to five years in cities like New York City, Chicago and Des Moines.

  • They are also creating a nonprofit foundation next year.
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