While most kids were drinking milk, juice, or plain old water — Shonta Dabney held a warm mug in her hands, sipping coffee at the kitchen table with her grandparents, she recalled.
“I have to be one of the very few Americans whose grandparents gave her coffee as a toddler,” Dabney laughed, looking back on where her love for java was first brewed.
“Coffee, Pepsi, scratch off tickets — they just gave it to me,” she continued, noting the caffeinated vice eventually proved helpful when she grew up and took a job in the medical field, working overnight shifts — which quickly prescribed an addiction to espresso.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Dabney took a shot at something new, landing a job at Starbucks where she could get her fix for free, she quipped.
“I am not going to lie, I had an absolutely amazing time. … I learned about the origins and the culture of coffee — and I decided to pursue it moving forward.”
Dabney now runs CoffeeFreshAF — her newly poured, premium, micro roasted coffee distribution company.
“I wanted something to leave my children — a legacy,” she said of her decision to pour herself into an entrepreneurial endeavor.
“I wanted to have a company where we offered high quality coffee — because most people, when they drink coffee, they’re used to this bold, acidic taste. They’re not that familiar [with] the background and how it’s grown and how it’s roasted,” Dabney explained, adding the opportunity to educate her customers on the processes behind crafting quality coffee has been a joy.
“I wanted to offer something different that they couldn’t get at the grocery store. When they drink it they get more of a smooth, fruity flavor versus a bold, dark taste.”
The company currently offers three roasts — Wired AF, Smooth AF, and High AF — and single serve coffee pods. Dabney sells her coffee online, at a retail shop and farmers market in her hometown of St. Louis, and at the Black Pantry and various pop-up shops across the Kansas City metro. Wholesale operations are on the menu for 2022, she said.
Click here to learn more about CoffeeFreshAF — including its giveback business model that sees a portion of proceeds used to provide school supplies to a middle school in West Africa.
“I drink it all. I drink my dark roast around five or 6 o’clock in the morning, I’ll drink my breakfast blend around lunchtime and I’m having an iced coffee in the evening,” Dabney said, pointing out she’ll never return to the grocery store coffee aisle.
“My whole purpose is to take people from buying $6 coffee drinks to making their coffee at home.”
The opportunity to brew representation within the coffee space provided a further jolt of inspiration and purpose for Dabney, she said.
“I wanted to start a business where I worked with Black-owned roasteries. It was very important to me to keep it all Black owned,” Dabney said, adding she sampled coffee from across the world — but the calling to elevate Black roasters through her business rang louder than the bold flavors any of them carried.
“I was determined to stick with Black-owned roasteries because of other people who are looking for Black-owned products — [with CoffeeFreshAF] they have a Black-owned roasterie, a Black, woman-owned disruptor,” she continued.
“Before I started my business I didn’t know [people looked for those markers], I didn’t know women looked for other women-owned businesses [to support]. All of that was new to me. I just wanted to drink coffee and have fun.”
By tapping into such networks, Dabney was able to partner the Black Pantry and groups that include KC Black Owned and Generating Income for Tomorrow (Kansas City GIFT) which awarded CoffeeFreshAF a $10,000 grant in December 2021.
“That grant was right on time,” she said, noting that at the time she’d wanted to open a mobile coffee bar.
“I didn’t get enough to actually get the bar — but I was able to pay off all of my debts that I accumulated. So, everything that I’m getting from all of my coffee orders [now] is profit.”
Dabney was also able to use the funds to expand her inventory and was able to stock things like reusable coffee pods and grinders to help customers create the perfect coffee experience.
GIFT also provided Dabney with an attorney and an accountant who have helped her achieve critical milestones in launching her businesses.
“It has been extremely beneficial. I did not expect to be able to add on all these things within less than six months [of operation], she said, impressed by her growth, surprised by her success, and eager to see what the future has percolating.
“I don’t want to put so much [pressure] on me that I’m to the point that I’m not able to enjoy my small wins. I want to continue to have fun,” she said.
“I’m not even thinking about money. The coffee culture — the coffee drinkers — when we’re coming together and tasting, its fulfilling. My soul is being fed.”
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.