KAnsas City’s first store for black-owned essentials was always about building a national identity, Brian Roberts said, but first it had to prove itself and prove itself locally.
“A lot of people were pushing me at first to go to the website, but I didn’t want to do that. There were a lot of things I needed to learn about the business before opening it to the nation. “I wanted to build a community of local, regular customers, who could provide feedback and be my primary audience. After that, I was ready to invest the capital in building a website,” said Brian Roberts, Founder of The black pantry.
The Black Pantry website officially went live on October 19 and features a selection of products found in the physical store in Midtown.
Click on here to view The Black Pantry’s online store.
Operating online retail dates back just over two years since Roberts founded The Black Pantry in September 2020. Frustrated with the gap in the Kansas City retail space between a shopping experience high-end and a showcase of black talent, Roberts bought a trailer and hosted a mobile pop-up shop of black-owned and manufactured goods.
In early 2021, The Black Pantry partnered with Made in North Carolina to open a joint storefront at the revitalized Martini Corner in Midtown.
“I was able to act quickly because Kansas City has a great ecosystem where you can do that; it’s a trusted ecosystem,” Roberts said. “People are willing to help you because they want to see you succeed. We like to see ourselves prosper. … The best thing I can do for Made in KC, all the sellers in my shop, and everyone who has helped me along the way is win. Because when one of us wins, we all win.
Click on here to learn more about Brian Roberts’ journey with The Black Pantry over the past two years.
To highlight the artists and entrepreneurs who have worked alongside Roberts during his evolutionary journey, The Black Pantry’s website offers a “Featured Artist” tab. The featured artist will rotate on a monthly basis, Roberts noted.
“Smokey By Nature BBQ Sauce’s Adrian Franks is our first featured artist; he’s been with me since I started,” Roberts explained. “With our website giving us national reach, we wanted to showcase the people of Kansas City so their brand could expand outside of the region as well. This is something that makes me very excited about Black Pantry as we continue to grow – having this omnichannel of means to reach us and our partners.
The further Roberts has gone on his journey with The Black Pantry, the more he considers himself an entrepreneur, he shared.
“I’m starting to see myself not just as a business owner, but as an entrepreneur because I find problems and solve them along the way,” he explained. “I do it through Black products.”
His method for success: watch and listen to other entrepreneurs.
“Before I even knew what I was doing, I listened to the virtual classes offered by The doorman’s house [KC]“recalls Roberts. “I listened to entrepreneurs talk about their situation and I took notes. … I also strive to build relationships with people I really respect. I ask them about their best practices and what not to do, and then use those practices in my own way.
One such company Roberts sought to emulate was Made in KC, which ended up becoming a close partner, Robert shared.
In addition to The Black Pantry and Made in KC’s shared storefront in Midtown, The Black Pantry secured a booth within the Made in KC Marketplace in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. This location features black-owned and locally made products in Kansas City, he noted.
Building a black ecosystem
The Black Pantry launching an online retail website is just the tip of the iceberg for what Roberts has planned, he teased.
“The breadth of what we’re able to do is different from other brands,” he said. “I’m looking to create a digital marketplace where we can buy and sell black brands among retailers. Then I can go and say, ‘Hey, you don’t have to wait for The Black Pantry to come to your town. You can open one in your neighborhood using products from The Black Pantry’s wholesale website.
Through a wholesale marketplace, Roberts would be able to create an ecosystem for black makers across the United States, he said — noting that connection is invaluable.
Along with its digital footprint, The Black Pantry plans to expand to another physical location in 2023, Roberts said — noting more are on the way. For now, he encouraged the community to check out Midtown’s new line of wines and spirits and follow Black Pantry Instagram for announcements about future tasting events.
It’s hard for Roberts not to think about the big picture, he admitted. It aims to set the bar for how all businesses, not just black businesses, should operate, he continued.
“I want the next iteration of The Black Pantry to bring something cool to Kansas City,” Roberts said. “People talk about buying black because it’s Black History Month, June 16th or Christmas, but I want to see people buying black because it’s cool, not just because it’s cool. It’s a holiday. I feel like if I can make the experience cool, intentional, and impactful, I don’t have to say, “Buy Black.” I can just be me.
This story is possible thanks to the support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundationa private, non-partisan foundation that works with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create unusual solutions and empower people to shape their future and succeed.