Today, we take you to Red Bay Coffee’s HQ in Fruitvale, Oakland CA. Red Bay Coffee is one of the most coveted specialty coffee roasters in the Bay Area, a region notorious for its espresso snobs.
Keba Konte is Red Bay Coffee’s founder and CEO. He’s not only a coffee evangelist, but most of all, he loves growing his team of future coffee shop owners. Red Bay Coffee’s mission has always been to roast premium coffee beans for its customers while giving back to its Oakland community by paying a fair wage to its employees and hiring only formerly incarcerated employees with zero experience in coffee. Red Bay Coffee has already reached its goal of paying more than minimum wage to all its employees; the starting hourly wage for a RBC employee is $15, well above Oakland’s minimum wage of $12.55.
In this short video, Keba updates his investors about the changes that have taken place since the closing of his campaign last year and the opening of its cafe at its headquarters. Coffee Bar’s grand opening was last Friday. There was a latte art competition, and, we assume, a big caffeinated celebration with Red Bay Coffee’s sweetest pup Greyson.
If you like to read instead, here’s the the interview transcript:
What has happened since the campaign closed last year?
So much has happened. We’ve continued to grow our business. We’ve built out our space. We got permitted yesterday so we’ll be opening our cafe this weekend. We built a coffee garden for people to enjoy in the outdoor space. We’ve won two different awards- the Jefferson Award for community service and the Small Business of the Year award from the State of California.
How were the funds from your Wefunder campaign used?
The funds were used for different purposes. One was operating cost. We invested in getting raw green beans supplies from Guatemala. We also used it to build out our kitchen for Coffee Bar.
Can you tell us more about your new cafe in the Red Bay Coffee HQ?
We’re really excited that we have our cafe space in HQ after working hard for two years. This weekend, we’ll be opening up Coffee Bar. We’ll specialize in espresso drinks, drip coffee, and pour overs. And we’ll be open seven days a week. Now that we’re open every day, we’ll have events, talks, demonstrations, exhibits, popups, etc. We have a lot of ideas in store.
Last year, wholesale was about 85% and retail was 15%. How’s this changed?
It’s still about the same. I expect our retail will start to climb by 3rd, 4th quarter this year. Because of our hopeful success of Coffee Bar but also because we’ll work on our e-commerce. We’ll be using Ebay, Amazon, our own website, etc. and we have a chief strategist who’s lazer focused on only e-commerce. So it’ll probably be 80% wholesale and 20% retail.
Last year, you had a goal of paying above average min wage to your employees. Has this goal been met?
The goal has been met! We start all of our new employees at $15 per hour. I believe that at least in this part of the country this should be the bare minimum wage. Even $15 per hour is tough to pay for rent. We will also roll out profit sharing for our employees this year.
Do you have any new team members?
We just hired a new Director of Coffee. Her name is Alicia Adams and she’s starting July 1st next week. She’ll play an important role for us, in terms of quality control and product development. She has a lot of retail experience so she’ll do high level management of our retail operations. So come on by for cupping and you’ll get a chance to meet her!
What’s Red Bay Coffee’s biggest achievement this year?
Staying in business may seem like a low bar. But this really is a competitive environment here in Northern California for specialty coffee. To survive and to continue to grow, we’re grateful for our success. Strengthening our team is what I’m most proud of.
What’s Red Bay Coffee’s most difficult challenge this year?
We completed our building and permit inspections. There’s a heavy level of scrutiny here in Oakland now, so there were a lot of hurdles to cross to demonstrate our place was up to par. Now, we’ve passed all our permits and inspections!
What are you most excited about these days?
One of my passions is gardening and building. I’ve been excited about building out our coffee garden where we even have an aquaponics garden. And we built a beautiful place for folks to sit. It’s become my outdoor office. I’m pretty much there every day, even on weekends.
What was it like to win the Small Business of the Year Award from the State of California?
It was a big deal and a big honor to win the Small Business of the Year Award. It’s been happening for about 40 years. Every assembly member in the state can choose a Small Business of the Year in his/her district. Nancy Skinner chose Red Bay Coffee as her SBOY so I got to her in Sacramento last week. It’s quite an accomplishment and we’re honored to receive the award.
What are you most proud of at Red Bay Coffee?
I feel great about the level of excellence of our product, day in and day out. We go to great lengths to roast and prepare great coffee and get them to our customers quickly. I feel great about that. But I’m most honored about the team we’ve built and the jobs we’re able to give. We have a practice of hiring people who have no experience in coffee and training them to be coffee professionals. We’re turning out a lot of coffee professionals in this world, and I expect a lot of them to start their own businesses one day.
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