When an opportunity pops up, make it permanent, said Brian Roberts, teasing the opening next month of The Black Pantry’s first brick-and-mortar storefront.
The 650-square-foot space on the revitalized Martini Corner in Midtown is expected to open in early April: the product of an evolving partnership with the team at Made in KC.
Roberts originally planned for a quiet early 2021; taking off a few months to craft a new game plan for his mobile pop-up shop — a retailer of food, home goods and everyday essentials from Black-owned brands, he said.
“At the end of January, Made in KC reached out to me with a unique opportunity for a storefront. I decided to go for it,” recalled Roberts, who founded The Black Pantry in September 2020.
The owners at Made in KC — Tyler Enders, Keith Bradley and Thomas McIntyre — suggested Roberts move his operation into a shop space within Made in KC’s new store on Martini Corner, amid the Tower East neighborhood renaissance. Knocking down a wall between a spot reserved for The Black Pantry and the Made in KC storefront allowed for the two to share a point of sale station and save on Roberts’ payroll.
“That’s a huge cost to any small business owner, so that’s extremely helpful,” Roberts said, noting that with the partnership, he maintains 100-percent ownership of his business.
Unlike the Made in KC Marketplace model seen on the Country Club Plaza and in Lee’s Summit, the Midtown town store is expected to be less focused on individual kiosks and mini-shops for Kansas City brands — with the exception of The Black Pantry.
Click here to read more about the Made in KC project at Martini Corner, which includes the retailer’s new offices/headquarters, a cafe, and a shuffleboard bar.
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Made in KC previously partnered with The Black Pantry in December to host his mobile pop-up shop outside the Country Club Plaza location. Roberts asked all the right questions about opening a store and left a strong impression, Enders noted.
“Brian has been super impressive,” Enders said. “Whether you look at the brands he’s curated, the local businesses he’s collaborated with, or the sheer number of pop-ups and the speed of his growth, he’s exactly the type of person I would bet on.
“.. And we love what Brian is doing,” Enders said, referencing Roberts’ focus on uplifting and working with Black-owned businesses. “So we wanted to lend a hand where we could to help him with speed to market, access to resources — resources we didn’t have in our first year or two of business — and accumulated institutional knowledge as a brick-and-mortar retailer.”
Although Roberts admitted that he doesn’t feel fully prepared to own his first storefront (he had originally planned to open one at the end of 2021), he is taking on the journey with good company only a few inches away from him, he said.
“It’s nothing that I can’t handle,” Roberts said. “Of course, it’s going to be a learning experience. And by learning with people who have done this multiple times, they’re helping me understand the [storefront] process as it’s happening. It will be great knowledge gained.”
A soft opening is planned for April 8 with an official launch April 17.
‘High ceiling of potential’
The Black Pantry sources products from across the country, hoping to find high-quality brands and provide a centralized place where the Kansas City community can support Black-owned businesses, he shared.
Click here to read about why Brian Roberts founded The Black Pantry.
With The Black Pantry’s premier storefront opening soon, Roberts is expanding the product line, with a goal to obtain a liquor license, he said.
“I’m really striving to get wine and beer,” he said. “That’ll be a game changer for the business because I know Black-owned wine, beer and spirits is in high demand. … Over the next three or four months, customers can expect that there’s always going to be something new.”
He also plans to extend pop-up opportunities to other businesses that have helped him get this far, he said.
“I’ve built some really good relationships along the way,” Roberts noted. “I’m extending offerings to everybody that I’ve done business with, because I have a unique opportunity that was given to me — so I want to be able to pass that on to other people.”
Enders sees several similarities between The Black Pantry and Made in KC, he said — adding that Roberts has the taste and passion to be successful in the long term.
“[Roberts] is doing for Black-owned brands, what Made in KC has done for local artists and makers; there are consumers who want to support local, there are consumers who want to support Black brands,” Enders said. “His journey shares a lot of similarities, but his ceiling of potential is a lot higher than ours. We’re really excited for him.”
Not closing the chapter on pop-ups
Even during what was supposed to be Roberts’ break at the beginning of the year, he couldn’t turn down opportunities to collaborate with other local businesses owners for pop-ups.
“After the second or third weekend of January, people started reaching out about doing pop-ups. I had inventory, so I said ‘Why not? Let’s do ahead and do more pop-ups,’” Roberts recalled.
“My mind frame with the Westside was to go into a community and collaborate with several of those small businesses to bring some awareness and excitement to the area,” Roberts explained. “I want to do that in places outside of Kansas City too, like Waldo, North Kansas City [and] Liberty.”
Pop-ups will continue to strengthen his brand and customer base, he added.
“I booked two pop-ups the first two weekends of April, the same dates as I have the store opening,” Roberts noted. “It’s going to be a lot on my plate, but I know I can get it done.”
For more information on The Black Pantry’s coming pop-ups, follow the retailer on Instagram.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.