It is difficult to start a business but it is arguably even harder to maintain an existing business. With the arrival of the COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, pandemic, small business owners have had to face even more hurdles to keep their doors open with mandatory stay-at-home orders in effect in addition to massive job losses. For one coffee retailer, the pandemic has brought the opposite effect and increased sales tremendously.
Keba Konte, the founder and CEO of Red Bay Coffee, is no stranger to business challenges. He opened his coffee shop as a way to combine his love for photojournalism to be displayed. When COVID-19 came to San Francisco, the news of the shop’s temporary shutdown brought a huge drop in sales. Forbes reported that the coffee retailer has seen an 85% decline in overall sales forcing Konte to drastically reduce his workforce.
As of right now, the coffee retailer has reopened some of its retail locations with a 40% decline in customer traffic. However, their flagship location in Oakland has seen a huge spike in sales since its reopening with an astonishing 350% increase in e-commerce sales due to stay-at-home restrictions forcing loyal customers to stay indoors.
“Then there’s another group who were drinking our coffee at our cafés, and we had to close most of them. They too have turned to having their coffee beans shipped,” Konte told Forbes. “We did 250 events last year, all have been forced to close because of social distancing rules due to the pandemic crisis,” Konte said.
Due to the new restrictions brought on by the public health crisis, Konte has begun work on a mobile van for customers to order and stay connected to the brand. “It’s been a lifeline and great brand exposure, we sold it through six-foot distances and cashless transactions on the van,” Konte said. The mobile van sells the brand’s coffee, tea, and oat milk cartons.
Red Bay Coffee Roasters was founded in 2014 by Konte who is not only defined as a renowned artist and successful food entrepreneur in specialty coffee but also the hospitality industry. Red Bay Coffee is at the forefront of the fourth wave of coffee—a firm commitment to ensure coffee production is not only high quality and sustainable, but a vehicle for diversity, inclusion, social and economic restoration, entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability.
In a 2018 interview with Mercurynews.com, Konte shared the following regarding his unique background.
“ I grew up in San Francisco, which is a town that prides itself on being inclusive and open-minded. I was a student at San Francisco State University, which has a rich history of radical thought and political activism. This environment really shaped my thinking about how to be in the world. So, when I started purchasing for the business, I’ve been keenly aware of the political ramifications of how I spend my money. And we’ve tried to bring more diversity and inclusion into this industry. Especially downstream from the farms with export, import, roasting, retail, equipment, education, training. It’s a $50 billion per year industry, and people who are sort of descendants of those coffee origin countries unfortunately play a very small role in most of that economy. At Red Bay, we’re trying to make up for some of that.
Red Bay seeks to create unity by hiring and serving people of all backgrounds, striving to be diverse and inclusive of those who have traditionally been left out of the specialty coffee industry, especially people of color, the formerly incarcerated, women and people with disabilities. Konte elaborated on that philosophy as well.
“So, there is racial inclusivity. There is also gender equality — 60 percent of our leadership is women. We have people who have physical handicaps in leader positions, and we make opportunities available to people who were formerly incarcerated or who came out of foster care. We’re driven to examining the entire supply chain — or the value chain, really — to weed out the exploitation. And for me, that’s a lot of fun, it feels great, and the coffee tastes better with less slavery.
According to the Red Bay website, “We are foodies, artists, activists, community folk, and innovators who love, love, love what we do.”