Editor’s note: This article is underwritten by Plexpod — a progressive coworking platform offering next generation workspace for entrepreneurs, startups, and growth-stage companies of all sizes — but was independently produced by Startland News.
Kansas City’s lack of a centralized shopping hub for products from Black-owned businesses frustrated Brian Roberts, he said, prompting the entrepreneur to launch The Black Pantry.
“My emphasis is really spreading the awareness of Black brands, because there are a lot of high-quality brands out there,” Roberts said, describing the focus — food, home goods and everyday essentials — of his mobile pop-up shop, The Black Pantry.
The idea sparked from Blackout Tuesday: an initiative started within the music industry to pause business in a bid to highlight social injustice, ultimately setting off a number of other boycotts across the nation .
“The purpose was to boycott businesses that either you didn’t see eye-to-eye [with] or that didn’t represent Black culture the way we thought it should be represented,” Roberts explained. “But the problem I saw with that was: if you wanted to boycott Target on Tuesday, well, where do you go on Wednesday? You got to shop for essentials — you’re going to go right back to them.”
Click here to check out The Black Pantry on Instagram.
Roberts always had an itch for entrepreneurship, he shared — noting inspiration from his father, who owns his own catering business.
The original plan was to open a brick and mortar storefront, Roberts said, but with COVID-19 regulations consistently up in the air, he didn’t think the timing was right.
“Then one day, I was just driving through my neighborhood and this girl was selling earrings out of a trailer,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘That’s cool.’ So I pulled up and asked her about her business model and ran with that.”
In September, Roberts crafted a business plan and began curating products for The Black Pantry. One of his top priorities: as well as being Black-owned, the products had to be of high quality and something he would use himself, he said.
“Brand integrity is very important to me,” Roberts noted. He credited instagram user, ashleydsocial — who uses her platform to raise awareness and review Black-owned brands — in helping him source several of The Black Pantry’s products.
The Black Pantry’s products range from popcorn to lip balm to candles. Check out some photos of the products below, then keep reading.
Through local connections in Kansas City, The Black Pantry quickly gained visibility across the community, Roberts said.
“Shout out to MADE MOBB,” he said, praising the popular streetwear brand founded in Kansas City. “They printed my shirts, and then I was telling [the co-founder Mark Launiu] what my vision was, and he was just like, ‘Pull up. You can do a pop-up outside of here.’”
The Black Pantry’s first and second pop-ups were Nov. 21 and Nov. 28 in outside the MADE MOBB store in the Crossroads Arts District.
“The Dopest General Store on 4 wheels” (as the shop’s Instagram says) also hosted its pop-up outside the Made in KC Marketplace on the Country Club Plaza — a partnership that, as with MADE MOBB, stemmed from genuine support, Roberts said.
The final pop-ups for 2020 are set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18 outside of Ruby Jean’s Kitchen and Juicery; and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19 in the West Bottoms.
Roberts is unsure if he will continue the pop-up format for The Black Pantry after the new year.
“I want to take January, February and March to cultivate an identity for myself,” Roberts said. “I saw some really cool things this past weekend [at the Plaza]. I got some really great ideas from networking with other business owners.”
“… What I’m doing right now with the trailer — it’s before the beginning,” he continued. “I don’t even know what to call it. It was just like a brainstorm.”
Roberts knows one thing for sure, he said: his passion for supporting Black founders is staying strong and will continue to guide him in his entrepreneurial journey.
“If you really dial into what’s going on, it’s all about buying local, buying Black, buying Native, supporting women, supporting gays,” he noted. “We’ve been blocked from opportunity forever. And this is like the tip of the iceberg; change is coming. Let’s do it right.”