Black businesses have been growing over the past few years, and South L.A. has been fortunate enough to house some unique businesses. This is a very prominent and important part of Southern California because of its rich history in the Black community and the opportunity it provides for small business owners looking for a place to start and develop.
Tony Jolly had this in mind when he first opened the first vegan, Black-owned coffee shop here in 2018. This coffee shop would become a staple in the community, as it offers healthier food and coffee options.
“I wanted to open up a coffee roaster retail operation in L.A. and wanted it in the Leimert Park District. But once we opened, the community made it known they needed more than just coffee, we need healthier foods here.” This prompted Jolly to change his menu and resources to a vegan menu. “After doing research, I found that vegetarian and Halal food was the highest selling food genres in America. I took a stand and changed my menu to vegan to add another layer to our coffee business.”
Jolly’s coffee ingredients and a few of his techniques derive from Ethiopia and the lessons he learned while living there for six years.
“I first went to Ethiopia in 2010 and lived there working with farmers to increase their quality and capacity of harvesting, and from there, I learned more about the crops and agriculture side of the coffee industry.”
Jolly has been in the coffee industry for 20 years, getting his first start at Starbucks as a teenager.
“I started working for Starbucks in the mid-90s, and while working, I became interested in coffee, as I was trying out different flavors at Starbucks, and I was enthusiastic about figuring out coffee. As time went on, Starbucks started their business migration to the east coast, where I helped them build and operate two stores,” Jolly said. “Working for a coffee retail chain is a certain experience I had with talking to customers, learning about their lives, and seeing how coffee affected them that played a role in piquing my interest in the coffee business.”
Jolly took his learning experience at Starbucks and expanded it to learning about specialty coffee and the process of making it.
“When my wife and I moved to Colorado, I started learning how to extract expressos and create latte art. I enjoyed participating in latte art competitions as I lived in a small town and was able to connect with the community and once again able to bring joy to people when I would make them a cup of coffee.”
Jolly was attending a coffee convention in Seattle when a person approached him about an opportunity to open a coffee shop in L.A.
“A year after my encounter, I called the guy in L.A., and he had just retired as a cop, and I knew there was gentrification going on, but I wanted to get deep in the Black community, and I knew he would point me in the right direction.” Jolly was pointed in the direction of Leimert Park but was disappointed upon his arrival.
“I drove from San Jose to L.A. and saw a desolate Leimert Park with nobody out. I instantly decided not to do it, and I left,” he said. “I spoke to my mentor about it, and he advised me to do it because I needed to build in a Black community and show young Black people entrepreneurship and how you can make money with coffee, and I opened up in Leimert Park.”
Things started well for Jolly, but then came the pandemic, and he struggled with some of the financial burdens.
“We started fast, and things were going good, but like other small businesses, the pandemic did affect us, but we never closed our doors.”
Then Jolly joined the Black Restaurant Accelerator Program and through it, he qualified for a grant to help his business. The money helped, but Jolly said the real value was in the lessons learned through the program.
“They were able to point out scenarios in our business that I couldn’t see,” he said. “The advice they gave me, I implemented into my business plan and saw immediate growth from it. I suggest every small business, especially Black small businesses, register for the program and be open to the advice and lessons they give.”
Our Weekly coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.