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Black coffee shops pulling in the green

By Bryan Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: May 2, 2018 - 9:50:41 AM

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Arron Muhammad, owner of Akhirah’s Praline located in Chicago. Photo: Haroon Rajaee

CHICAGO—The situation involving Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, two Black men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks for behaving like any other coffee shop patron would, outraged many in the Black community already fed up with the racial bias presently faced in daily life.

The question of what caused a White employee to call the police on the men who were in the establishment waiting to take a business meeting, and then detained, although not yet charged, for trespassing, has never been answered.

However, some good has come out of this situation, primarily the promotion of and continued push to support Black-owned businesses, especially coffee shops.

“In this day and age, I saw what happened as a series of teachable moments. One is, you never know who’s watching and you never know who you’re messing with,” Trez Pugh, Black entrepreneur and owner of Sip & Savor coffee shop in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, told The Final Call. “As a business owner I looked at it as an opportunity for people to see that there’s other options out there. I never want to rise off someone else’s demise—and I don’t think Starbucks is going to fall off because of this. But when that door cracked, I wanted to kick it open and let people know there’s alternatives, and good ones available. We base everything off of what I call the five Cs: Crisp, clean, classy, consistent customer service. We, as Black people, deserve the best of everything.”

The sign outside of Sip & Savor reads, “Great Coffee. Great Conversation. Great Community.”  Three ideals the establishment openly promotes to create a positive work environment for employees, a warm, cozy feel for patrons and, according to Mr. Pugh, serves as an incubator for other Black entrepreneurs who oftentimes conduct informal meetings there.

“I used to work at Starbucks for years, but the people who come in seem to enjoy the feel of it,” Venus, manager of Sip & Savor, told The Final Call. “They like that it’s community based. From what I’ve seen, a lot of the people who come in here know each other, and they love the ambiance, the art on the walls, and of course the fact that it’s Black-owned.”

In the aftermath of the Starbucks debacle, a national boycott began and a list of 47 Black-owned coffee shops around the country—curated by the website Shoppe Black—was created to make Black consumers aware that they have alternatives to the national chain. The list was disseminated across multiple social media platforms, and quickly spread. Some Black-owned coffee houses even noted a spike in business as a result. Kaffeine Coffee in Houston said sales increased as much as 40 percent after their business made the list. In Durham, N.C., Beyu Cafe also saw an increase in sales as a result of being named. All of this underscores that fact that Black people can and will support their own.

“This is a wake up moment. And regardless to what the inspiration was, it helped to heighten our consciousness [as Black people],” Toure Muhammad, founder of Black Chicago Eats, a directory of more than 150 Black-owned restaurants and eateries, told The Final Call. “I was recently invited to an event at a Black-owned coffee shop by an organization called Black Dollars Matter. The turnout was beautiful. There were regular customers who came in, as well as new ones who were looking for a Black coffee shop after the Starbucks incident. People desire to see us supporting each other and they want to know about places that are Black-owned that they can support.”

Black spending power has long been a topic that not enough Black people pay attention to or even understand.

In its report, “Black Dollars Matter: The Sales Impact of Black Consumers,” the Nielsen Company estimated that Black people in America collectively have a buying power of $1.2 trillion, despite representing just 14 percent of the American population.

What’s more interesting is that Black people dictate what non-Black people decide to spend their money on.

Behind the counter, Amy Muhammad and her husband Arron Muhammad share a laugh with customers at their business, Akhirah's Praline. Photo: Haroon Rajaee

“Our research shows that Black consumer choices have a ‘cool factor’ that has created a halo effect, influencing not just consumers of color but the mainstream as well,” Cheryl Grace, Nielsen’s senior vice president of U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement, wrote in the report. Black people are a driving force economically, and could be an even more powerful force in various other ways by deciding to continue doing business with each other and keeping Black dollars circulating within the Black community, she said.

“I push a rule I learned from a self-made Black millionaire, and it’s ‘buy from people who buy from you,’” Toure Muhammad said.

“The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad showed us the way. If you get a bunch of us together and we start doing business with each other, we will be able to survive regardless of what’s going on around us.

And if we as Black business owners and entrepreneurs promote, push and encourage each other to share our networks with other Black business owners and entrepreneurs, then our dollars will continue to circulate. We just have to be disciplined and do it so that we can give our people an example to know that it can be done, and give them the roadmap on how to keep it going.”

“Our people need to enrich these Black-owned coffee shops, and then hold us accountable for the growth and development of our businesses, and hold us accountable for putting something back in the community, such as teaching our young people business entrepreneurship,” Arron Muhammad, owner of Akhirah’s Praline Candy in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood, told The Final Call. “There’s a lot of groups that are growing quickly that are promoting these kinds of movements. The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad was the first Black man in America to teach the pooling of resources and doing something for self in the form of building businesses. He led that charge, and that is the culture of the Nation of Islam—pooling resources and building businesses. But today, we are so non-productive as a people. We’re not producing anything. And if we don’t fix that, we’ll be just like the servant in the Bible who had that one talent and instead of using it, he went and buried it.”

Starbucks recently announced that all of its U.S. locations will be closed on May 29 so that the company can conduct anti-racial bias training for all of its employees, the boycott among Black people seems to still be going strong. Black coffee shop owners across the country should continue to benefit long after the controversy has moved off the national radar.