Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson

Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson

BLK & Bold Specialty Beverages

It is popular wisdom that it is a bad idea to go into business with a friend. Fortunately for the coffee world, Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson didn’t listen to that. Before they went into business together with their 2021 venture, BLK Bold Specialty Beverages, the two lifelong friends had already built successful careers for themselves. Cezar was the sales director for beauty retailer Sundial Brand, while Johnson was working in fundraising at the Univeristy of the Pacific in Stockton, California. But those careers were leaving them a little cold and both decided they wanted to run a business of their own with Cezar acting as CEO and Johnson handling marketing. After doing quite a bit of research, the duo discovered that African Americans weren’t at all common in the coffee industry either as customers or business operators. Apparently, they’re also the least-likely ethnicity to drink coffee on a regular basis according to research the two read from the National Coffee Association, a research outfit and lobbying organization. The figures clinched it and the two jumped headfirst into the coffee game beginning with setting up their first commercial roaster in Cezar’s garage in 2018 and spending more than $20,000 of their savings on marketing and business operating costs. But the results have been nothing short of spectacular. BLK & Bold Coffee hit almost $1 million in profit in just three years due largely to key relationships the two forged with Amazon, Ben & Jerry’s, the NBA, and Target. Those partnerships are certainly smart, but they were also difficult to attain—highlighting the partners’ negotiating skills and business savvy. Last year, their licensing pact with the NBA resulted in a new coffee flavor called The Warm Up, and this year, they delivered a coffee ice cream with Ben & Jerry’s, simply called Change is Brewing.

Why They Made the Worthy 100: From the outset, Cezar and Johnson wanted their company to do more than just sell coffee. They wanted to give back, especially to young people growing up in difficult neighborhoods as they had back in their hometown of Gary, Indiana. As kids, the two spent time at their local Boys & Girls Club and now they wanted to give back to similar organizations. So, in 2020, when most struggling businesses would hang on to every nickel, BLK & Bold Coffee donated upwards of $42,000 to 14 different community organizations and have since pledged 5 percent of their ongoing profits to continue donations to other youth programs. On their LinkedIn page, the company describes their mission as being, “rooted in quality, convenience, community, and diversity, supports initiatives designed to create opportunities for urban youth to overcome statistical odds.” That’s a worthy mission in anyone’s book and if you can get caffeinated at the same time, so much the better!

Scroll to Top