ATLANTA — There are about 300,000 Black business owners in Georgia. It's a number that has grown during the pandemic, especially in metro Atlanta.
Aaron Fender co-founded Portrait Coffee Roasters, a coffee shop created in 2019. Fender and his team of six are the first Black coffee roasters to open up in the city, setting up shop in the Historic West End. The name "Portrait" comes from how Fender wants the coffee made there to be a reflection of the local community that drinks it.
"We wanted to have a café that reflects the culture and community in which we lived," Fender said. "We looked around as a team and realized there was a need here. We’re really focused on our product and operating in excellence. We take pride in the traceability of every coffee bean we import. We know where it’s coming from and who our producers are on the other side.”
The pandemic forced Fender and company to pivot their business model and delay the opening of a café. Fender said the shop currently bags two-thousand pounds of coffee a week, doing direct sales, subscription services, wholesaling and distributing nationally to retailers like Target.
Black-owned businesses are seeing tremendous growth, according to Terri Denison, the Georgia District Director with the Small Business Administration. Metro Atlanta has served as an incubator for that growth, due to it being the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement and the site of several HBCU's, Denison said. Denison said the SBA has doled out $9 million more to Black-owned businesses in just four years. Denison said federal contract amounts have also increased for Black-owned businesses by $22 million in four years.
"The pandemic has given a chance for people to just take a pause and think about other ways they can earn a living," Denison said. "Especially in the African American community, we’re embracing more and more the idea of entrepreneurship as a primary career.”
Denison said she's seeing younger people want to become business owners. She listed the top five types of new Black-owned businesses in metro Atlanta as: healthcare and social assistance, accommodation and food service, professional scientific and technical services (like tax and accounting services), personal services (like laundry, cosmetics) and retail and trade.
Denison said the outcomes of these businesses are mixed, however, as the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on minority-owned businesses over the last two years.
The New Black Wall Street, a hub for more than 100 businesses in Stonecrest, opened in Summer 2021 to honor the 100th anniversary of the original Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK. Director Matthew Hampton said the project was completed in 12 months and has seen success from like-minded entrepreneurs of color.
"You can see African-American entrepreneurs thriving, doing well, working together, and that’s the message we want to send to the community," Hampton said. "One, we can work together and two, we can work in excellence.”
Businessman Lecester Allen developed and owns the 125,000 sq. ft. space, which features cafes and restaurants, retail shops and boutiques, beauty and skincare shops and more. Hampton said the New Black Wall Street also trains and develops entrepreneurs of all backgrounds.
“That helps all people in our community do better, live better and it helps our communities be more vibrant," Hampton said. “Having a place where you can see, engage, shop and support 100 plus entrepreneurs, that’s something to celebrate.”
Fender, who held a public fundraising campaign for Portrait Coffee, said the willingness of people of color to invest back into their communities has added to the appeal of aspiring entrepreneurs to do business in metro Atlanta.
“That honestly warms my heart that we get to do business with Black folks who invest back into us and we’re happy to help amplify their story and their narrative too," Fender said. "It brings me joy. I hope that it brings other Black and Brown entrepreneurs hope that they too can be the first in their industry.”