As coffee giant Starbucks closes over 8,000 stores for an anti-bias training stemming from the arrest of two black men in Philadelphia last month at one of its stores, at least one independent coffee shop is saying it’s not enough.
Keba Konte, the founder of Oakland-based Red Bay Coffee, traveled to Philadelphia to hold a discussion on Tuesday about “the state of black coffee" which was streamed live on a 360 cam from the Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Philadelphia via the Facebook page for Essence, a black culture and lifestyle magazine.
For an hour, six speakers, which included local African-American business owners — one of them wearing a T-shirt that read "Latte Gang" — discussed race, diversity and the challenges of running a black business in modern-day America, and urged coffee drinkers to support small independent, black-owned coffee shops.
“Even before I opened up a brick and mortar business myself, I was very intentional about where I was spending every dollar and the impact of it,” Konte said.
At one point, the group talked about the incident involving #BBQBetty — the Oakland woman who turned into a viral meme for calling the police on a couple of black men grilling along Oakland’s Lake Merritt.
Founded in 2014, Red Bay is a black-owned and women-led coffee company. It also includes formerly incarcerated members of the community.
Konte believes racial bias training by Starbucks is a good first step to starting a conversation about inclusion and diversity in an industry where there’s a dearth of African-American representation. But he doesn’t think it’s enough, calling the chain’s discussion “a necessary but ultimately insufficient racial bias training.”
"Until Starbucks makes some deep structural changes to reverse its legacy of racial bias — which is also built into American society — they'll continue to have incidents," he told Business Insider. "The only way you can reverse corporate culture is by changing the leadership. That has been my experience."
The roundtable kicked off a tour of two other black-owned coffee shops in Philadelphia - Uncle Bobbie's Coffee & Books and Franny Lou’s Porch.
The goal? “Shining a spotlight on the larger implications of what happened at Starbucks, promoting the importance of inclusive and fair business models as a way to advance racial justice, and encouraging people in Philadelphia and on social media to support black-owned alternatives to Starbucks,” according to a statement on the Red Bay Coffee Shop website.
One local black coffee shop owner told the audience that she tries to make her African-American customers comfortable with “coffee culture.” “They need to know that it’s a place you can just come in and chill,” she said.
Konte wants to seize this moment sparked by the Starbucks controversy and turn it into an opportunity. He says that following the incident in Philadelphia last month, and the #ReplaceStarbucks movement that came after the backlash, his coffee shop reported a jump in sales, similar to a trend seen in black coffee shops nationwide.
“It’s an opportunity to put us in the center of the conversation, which is where we should be, because we are a mission-driven coffee company,” Konte told the SF Chronicle. “This is something I can do something about in my industry.
“It matters giving young black people an opportunity to see themselves in other professions that they might not know, and letting them know that coffee came from Africa. It’s your cultural inheritance,” he added.