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From the ground up

Chris and Rick with product2

Local partners start coffee company

At his government job, Ricardo Richardson was chatting with a coworker from Senegal, West Africa, when the topic turned to something Richardson is passionate about—coffee.

“I had been thinking for a long time about doing something for myself—starting my own company,” recalled Richardson, who is now CEO and president of Historic Noir Coffee Group. “My friend was talking about Senegal as a coffee-exporting country and it just clicked with me. I liked the idea of going into a business where there wasn’t already a lot of minority participation.” Richardson said he realized he could bring a special product to market while helping growers in developing countries. “A business should always be about more than making money,” he said. “We want to help provide opportunities for people across the country and around the world.”

Richardson invited longtime friends Christopher Brown and Daron Moreman to join him in the new enterprise. “Each partner brought unique expertise to the business,” he said. “My background is in project management; Chris is a details man—his specialty is quality control—and Daron knows sales and operations.

“We work really well together. If two of us passionately agree on something, the other one will go along. We have a strong bond of trust and confidence in one another,” Richardson continued.

Among the details the partners agreed on was a name for the new enterprise. “Historically, Atlanta has been the birthplace of many Black-owned businesses,” Brown explained. “That’s why as African-American men starting a business we incorporated the words ‘historic’ and ‘noir’—the French word for black—into our name.” The current blends—Fourth Ward, West End and Decatur—he said, also honor Atlanta and the founders. “I grew up in Decatur, Rick grew up in West End and Deron grew up in the Fourth Ward. We decided those would be our initial offerings. We plan to create blends to honor other Atlanta area neighborhoods such as Buckhead.

“We took our time building a business infrastructure. We wanted everything in place—financing, licensing, insurance. We wanted a Dun and Bradstreet number so that any potential partners could easily learn whatever they needed to know about us. We wanted anyone who does business with us to know we’re a solid company; we’re not some fly-by-night operation,” Brown said.

All the pieces started to come together at a trade show at which the partners met the Seattle-based company that would become their importer, roaster and packaging company. “We stood out at the trade show—African American guys in the coffee business. The Seattle company approached us. Once they checked us out and found out we had a sound operation, they wanted to do business with us,” Brown recalled. “They even got involved in package design, helping us create an eye-catching black and orange package that stands out on the shelves.”

In a process called “cupping,” Brown and his partners sampled combinations of beans and flavorings at various strengths and temperatures until they hit upon blends they wanted to call their own. Historic Noir Coffee Group was established in 2009; in 2014, the company was ready to place its product in retail stores and coffeehouses as well as making it available online.

“The roasting company had already taken care of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) compliance. That made importing from anywhere in the world easier,” Brown said, adding that current blends use beans from Central and South America. “In the future, we may use coffee from Haiti and African countries. It’s great when we can establish a business that helps uplift others financially.”

Historic Noir Coffee’s website notes that its partners are “fair trade” coffee importers “that respect humanity and the environment….We are not just distributing our coffee products, but providing a service to the global community of farmers, suppliers, retailers, roasters and ultimately the end consumers.” 

Brown added, “We also continually look for ways to work with nonprofit organizations—give back to the community here in Atlanta. We’ve all been richly blessed and we want our company to be a blessing to others.”

The partners say they are proud to have started a business that is unusual in African-American communities, but add they don’t want that to be the extent of their legacy. “We don’t want people to buy our coffee because we’re an African-American owned company; we want people to buy it because it’s an excellent product,” Brown said.

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