Bartholomew Jones is a Memphis-born entrepreneur who co-founded the Cxffeeblack brand alongside is wife, Renata Henderson, in late 2018.
After seeing success online
during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones was eager to build more local relationships and provide a more accessible way for his own city and neighbors to buy his products.
Co-founder Bartholomew Jones poses with a bag of Cxffeeblack coffee outside of the Heights Design Center, which is currently home to Cxffeeblack's popup coffee shop, the Anti-Gentrification Coffee Club #1. In the background is a map of The Heights (Ziggy Mack)
“We felt like our neighborhood was left out of that because they’re not on Instagram necessarily,” said Jones, who grew up in Whitehaven and attended Wheaton College in Illinois before returning to Memphis with Henderson and settling in The Heights.
The Heights CDC approached the coffee expert and entrepreneur in December 2020 with an offer to open a popup coffee shop inside their Heights community design center at 751 National Street.
Jones dubbed it the popup "Anti Gentrification Coffee Club #1."
“Coffee in and of itself is usually an indicator of gentrification in a neighborhood. When that same good is owned by Black and Brown people, it can be used to empower and to disrupt the forms of oppression that they experience,” said Jones.
The Heights includes several smaller communities like Mitchell Heights, Graham Heights, Highland Heights, and the majority of Nutbush.
The Heights is primarily low-income and working class and is one of Memphis' most diverse neighborhoods, with population statistics
in areas like Graham Heights showing near equal numbers of Black, Latinx, and white residents. Other areas of The Heights are majority-Black or majority-Latinx.
KeDarius Davis talks with patrons of Cxffeeblack's Anti-Gentrification Coffee Club #1, located at 751 National Street in The Heights. (Ziggy Mack)
Cffxeeblack's mission is
"to reclaim the Black history of coffee and remain its Black future."
Alongside their custom roasts, they sell apparel and merchandise
branded with slogan like, "Make Cxffee Black Again," "degentrify your cxffee," and "Love Black people Like You Love Black Cxffee."
Their products are intended for all customers, but in an industry that is dominated by white-owned businesses, Jones said it is important that Cxffeeblack be authentically presented and accessible to his community and the greater Black diaspora in terms of affordability, location, aesthetic, and marketing.
Their work includes educating others on the racial exploitation that is seeped into the roots of the coffee industry. They actively focus on building relationships with African farmers, providing a safe place that recognizes the Black roots of the coffee industry,
and building a sustainable brand that can grow to afford larger coffee shipments.
Stepping It Up and Next Steps
Since opening the shop, Jones has been continually looking for ways to improve outreach and education on both large and small scales. The shop hosts coffee and cupping classes on Thursdays and an open-mic night on Fridays to build community.
As a Heights resident himself, Jones hopes to continue meeting and learning from the members of his community over a cup of coffee.
In August, Jones and his team plan to travel to Africa to shoot a documentary on the Black history of coffee in which they will interview African coffee growers and roasters. There's an active GoFundMe
to support the trip.
“Collaboration on the international level changes things for us,” said Jones. “Seeing people at origin being able to grow, harvest, cut, roast, and sell coffee inside and outside of their country and keep 100% of the profit—that’s where I want to see [the industry] go."
Jones said it's important to increase diverse representation in the coffee industry, but it can be hard to do so in a way that does not reduce a person down to only one aspect of their identity.