Photo Credit: Courtesy of BLK and Bold Speciality Beverages
Meet The Men Behind The First Nationally Distributed Black-Owned Coffee And Tea Brand
When most people think of Gary, Indiana, they usually think of The Jackson 5. But best friends, Pernell “PJ” Cezar and Jarrhod “Rod” Johnson, are hoping to bring a new legacy to the city with one of America’s largest Black populations.
The two men grew up right across the street from each other and briefly parted ways for college. Now after more than 20 years of friendship, they are the faces behind the first Black-owned nationally distributed coffee and tea brand. Yes, as late as 2018, we are just seeing the first Black packaged coffee and tea brand in major stores across the country.
BLK and Bold Speciality Beverages was created as a way for the friends to merge their two loves while also creating something that would, in turn, give back to their community. PJ is the coffee aficionado while Rod is the tea connoisseur. The name of the brand brings double meaning.
“Black and bold represents the coffee and teas but it is also a mantra for us in the Black community,” Rod Johnson told Travel Noire. “It is the way we navigate life not only as Black people but Black entrepreneurs as well.”
Additionally, they also take their ‘specialty’ designation very seriously as well. For a brand to receive this title, their coffee beans must score at least an 80 out of 100, on a special scale. For them, it’s not just a marketing ploy, it’s an actual representation of the quality of the products.
All products are manufactured and roasted in house in their facility in Des Moines, Iowa. Products are nationally distributed to retailers such as Target and Whole Foods. Most recently they opened a virtual store on Amazon as well.
BLK and Bold offers an array of roasting profiles as well as more than 13 tea blends. The two men are constantly adding new flavors to meet the demand and request of customers.
One of the more innovative products is the single-serve steeped coffee.
“It’s an individual bag of freshly roasted coffee that is specially sealed to keep the freshness and flavor,” PJ Cezar said. “You can take it on-the-go and enjoy it by simply adding hot water. It’s just like having a fresh cup of coffee prepared for you in a shop.”
If being the first Black nationally distributed packaged coffee and tea brand wasn’t enough, the men also take pride in their give-back initiatives. 5% of all profits are donated to both local and national non-profits that service at-risk youth. Among their community partners are No Kid Hungry, City Growers, and By Degrees Foundation.
“We wanted to help provide resources to help youth live their best lives,” PJ said. “From workplace development to eliminating youth homelessness, we donate to organizations all across the country where we also have retail distribution.”
The brand’s motto is “turning espresso shots into fair shots.”
Blazing the trail
Even in the year 2020, both Cezar and Johnson can’t believe they are the first in their lane. While the title is humbling and the two are grateful, it makes them wonder why they are just now becoming the first.
“We want to kick open the door for those after us, whatever their dream may be,” Rod said. “As someone who didn’t have a real example growing up, it feels good to now potentially be that for others and to provide a representation of someone who looks like them.”
Going into the start of the brand, they knew there would be some obstacles, especially when it came to funding and competing with the Starbucks and Peets of the world. However, they never let that deter them.
Each day, Cezar and Johnson work to master their craft while providing high-quality products and empowering underserved communities.
“We could have easily done this on a smaller scale, but when you have the opportunity to go bigger, why not do it,” PJ asked? We want to bring awareness to our people that they can do the same. We also want to show the youth that their lives can be a lot better than ours was.”