It’s 11am on a Saturday and the coffee shop is busy.
The line starts outside the door, loops around a covered awning, then down the block on Couch Street to the corner of NW Fourth, around the corner, and clear to Burnside, the city of Portland’s busiest thoroughfare and symbolic mainstreet. As DJ Quaz spins a mix of Afrobeat they wait, spaced out and adorned in masks: young and old, regulars and new faces alike, teenagers from suburbs like Tigard and Newberg, commuters, and friends from around the neighborhood, many of them wearing very cool sneakers. This is the weekend patron line at Deadstock Coffee in June 2020.
“It has been wild,” says cafe manager Kevin Minnieweather. Along with Deadstock founder Ian Williams, Minnieweather is a fixture behind the bar at Deadstock, and the co-creator of Hype Baristas, an Instagram account dedicated to coffee and sneaker culture. “We’ve had hats flying off the shelves, having to restock merch every other day, and I can’t keep up with the drinks.” Particularly popular at Deadstock’s line of signature beverages like Zero Chill, a blend of coffee and sweet tea, and the Lebronald Palmer, which adds lemonade into the mix. “We keep running out of everything.”
45 minute wait times, a bubble tea collaboration with popular local mini-chain Tea Bar, fundraising for the Congressional Black Caucus, and record sales both online and in-person: this is the new reality for Deadstock Coffee against the backdrop of a historic moment for Black civil rights in America. And they aren’t alone: Black-owned coffee businesses around the country are reporting similar record sales days and an outpouring of community support from both long-time customers and new fans.
“We’ve more than doubled sales from this time last month,” says Nigel Price, the owner/operator at Drip Coffee in Bushwick, Brooklyn. “The traffic even mid-week has been phenomenal, and online sales of beans has required my wife moonlighting from her day job.” Price’s shop is still new, having expanded from his 2019 pop-up cart operation into a brick and mortar earlier this year. “We flew past our ‘breakeven’ market,” he tells Sprudge.
At Gilly Brew Bar in suburban Atlanta, founder Daniel Brown and his team have seen a significant increase in sales numbers over the last few weeks. He chalks it up to community support, media attention, marketing, and at least one unexpected source: “The pushback Starbucks has received.” Gilly is seizing this moment: just this week they’ve announced the opening of their second location, in Atlanta’s Castleberry Hill historic Black business district, and they’ll kick it off with a June 19th pop-up to celebrate Juneteenth.
“We set an all-time record and sold over 400 bags of coffee,” says Portrait Coffee, another Atlanta company, whose fundraising efforts over the last few weeks have helped support Peace Preperatory Academy. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the story is much the same, where Bloom & Plume—florist Maurice Harris’ shrine to coffee and flowers—are reporting “6-8x stronger sales” since pre-COVID levels.
It’s a nationwide thing, the outpouring of support for Black-owned coffee businesses both online and in-person. Sales records have been set and broken. Entrepreneurs are seeing real dreams come true, as the communities they serve choose to vote with their dollars and express support. We’re living through Black civil rights history here in 2020, but coffee has always been attached to history, always been a conduit through which society is discussed, understood, and advanced. Today’s moment continues the drink’s long, complicated, beautifully imperfect narrative—a new chapter, another track.
Meanwhile back on that June weekend, DJ Sworth steps in for DJ Quaz, knitting together contemporary and classic hip-hop into a sonic echo that rattles off the curbs and buildings of Old Town. The line is like a 45-minute wait. Deadstock’s founder Ian Williams went from 127 bags of coffee sold online in the last week of May to 1236 bags of coffee sold online the first week of June—an 1000% increase. Inside the store this month’s art show, from local artist Feed The Soul, is nearly sold out, and the Deadstock team can’t keep merch on the shelves. Shirts and hats sell out nearly as quickly as they go up.
Directly next to Williams’ shop is a new, impressively enormous mural, credited to local artist Beatriz Pillar (@Buhnbee) with support from Nina Nguyen (@nimsicles). In black bubble art against a golden-yellow backdrop it says, unequivocally, “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” But look a little closer and you’ll see details within the details. The second “T” in “MATTER” has been converted into a street sign, adorned with the Deadstock logo and the phrase “Keep goin’!” And the “M” reaches out into the sky, a hand born from a letter, holding up a sign of its own, a phrase within a phrase. It reads simply: “DON’T STOP“.
Click here for a nationwide updating list of Black-owned specialty coffee companies.
Click here for a nationwide updating list of Black-owned coffee fundrasiers.
Jordan Michelman (@suitcasewine) is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network and the winner of a 2020 James Beard Award for digital journalism.