Germaneke Drone is steeping her daughters’ entrepreneurial vision with her own lived experience to turn the kids’ idea into the Kansas City-based, dairy-free mobile coffee cafe of their dreams, the Blakk Brew founder said.
Growing up with a Vietnamese grandmother, Kai, 8, and Keanu, 6, were introduced to coffee and tea culture at an early age. So instead of asking to set up a lemonade stand, Drone explained, they asked for a coffee stand.
She ultimately embraced their concept, starting the licensing process for Blakk Brew in 2021, partnering with Tantara Farms — a small, family-owned roaster in Springfield — and has hit the ground running with events — like popups, weddings, RV rallies, and private parties — in 2023.
“It’s really their business — but because I’m the grown up — I get to do all the fun stuff of running it,” she said. “But it started with them. They’re going to be a force to be reckoned with, for sure.”
With the goal of opening a brick-and-mortar coffee shop — infused with Black history — within three to five years, Drone noted she is letting her daughters be involved in pretty much every step of the process, excluding drinking highly caffeinated beverages.
Her family owns the Charlie D’s fish and chicken restaurant in Kansas City, so she knows the value of growing up around a small business.
“It’s very important to me that my kids put in that legwork of building that work ethic,” she explained, “so they know, if you want something, you get back what you put in it.”
Drone shared that the young duo attend most of the events where Blakk Brew is a vendor, and they interact with customers, provide input on ads and fliers, experiment with boba tea flavors (their favorite drink), and brainstorm drink names — inspired by unsung Black heroes like Dorthy Dandridge (a caramel latte) and Nina Simone (a black coffee). The girls eventually plan to work with Tantara to create their own blends.
“I want this to be their business when I’m done building it up and they’re old enough to keep it going,” Drone continued. “I wanted it to be something they’re passionate about because they put in the hours versus just Mom started something and left it to them when she died. I want it to be as much of theirs as it is mine.”
After Kansas City G.I.F.T.’s We Are Black pitch competition — Blakk Brew’s first such contest — Kai and Keanu even offered their mom feedback for the next pitch opportunity, Drone said.
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“It was so nerve wracking, but at the same time, it helped us bond as a family so much,” Drone noted. “I wanted them there to experience what that felt like in just getting that momentum started.”
Although Blakk Brew wasn’t awarded any prize money, she shared, all three of them considered the event — where they served their coffee — a success. They were able to gain connections and validation for their business idea.
“It was inspiring,” Drone continued. “We were the only business there asking for startup money. All the other businesses were so established, yet they were so inviting and welcoming and supporting. They all gave us some type of small Easter egg to go home with and to work on next time, and then seeing how they run their business, helped me kind of manipulate or change our business model just a little bit because I do want us to be our best version of ourselves.”
The resources and support G.I.F.T. provides each participant — a full year of technical assistance, which includes accounting, bookkeeping, marketing, legal, and business coaching services — was worth facing her fear of public speaking alone, Drone noted.
“They are like, ‘We want to pour into you guys; we don’t want you to fall off the mat,’” she added. “It’s so encouraging. It keeps me on my toes because — with the culture and the lifestyle we live now, especially since the pandemic — it’s easy to fall off and to get lazy. It’s easy to get complacent and G.I.F.T. motivates me to stay consistent with the business because I don’t do well with disappointments and failures.”
Coffee with a side of knowledge
While Drone is keeping up with the mobile business that has picked up quicker than expected, she said, she’s also planning for Blakk Brew’s future brick-and-mortar coffee shop, which she hopes will be a part of the revitalization on Troost Avenue.
“My dream is to have it in the community I grew up in,” she explained. “I really want to be a part of that because I feel like giving back to the community that bred me is so important to me. It’s important that other kids have resources that I didn’t have when I grew up in that neighborhood.”
She also wants it to be more than just a coffee shop, she said, desiring an educational experience, starting with Black history. Her daughters are growing up on the music of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Drone said, and she wants other kids to share that same experience.
“We’re going to be pushing teaching the kids who these Black unsung heroes are, like Dorothy Dandridge,” she noted of the actress who inspired one of the drink names that her daughters chose. “It’s something that we’re really passionate about. Why not have a cup of coffee while listening to some jazz, some blues? I felt like it just went hand in hand.”
Drone, who has volunteered with Junior Achievement, also has dreams of the coffee shop being a place for kids to take classes to learn entrepreneurship skills, eventually leading to scholarship opportunities.
“They will learn about managing and running a business,” she said. “And then once they complete a course, on Saturdays, they open the shop. So it would be my kids and the kids who finished the program, they’ll run the store for that full day. For me, it is super important to educate the kids or our history, as well as preparing them for their own desires later. You might not want to open a coffee shop, but you’ll still need to know these business skills to do whatever it is you’re trying to do.”