Sipping Black Only and How Black-Owned Brands Bring Value to On-Premise Venues

The missions of Sipping Black Only (SBO) and the on-premise community intersect in enjoyable ways. SBO Founders and Co-owners, CEO Demetra Harris and Chief Strategy Officer Brandi Neloms, believe on-premise operators, Black-owned beverage brands and beverage consumers can connect through education and word-of-mouth activism.

The world of Black-owned beverages – from spirits to teas and coffees – depends on consumer advocates for traction. Harris and Neloms saw that need and stepped in to launch Sipping Black Only. Harris has an extensive background as a financial analyst, as well as experience in hospitality and events. The combination gives her valuable insight into the economics of the beverage industry. Neloms brings years of experience working with brands, business development and communications. Together they share a love of Black-owned beverages and a passion to drive action through a community of consumers.

“Those enthusiasts become evangelists and partner with the brands, distributors and other partners on events, content and activation that helps move the needle closer for Black-owned brands to become mainstream selections,” says Neloms.

Sipping Black Only - Brandi Neloms
Brandi Neloms
  (Photo: Courtesy of Sipping Black Only)

Their Advice to Consumers: Just Ask for It

The two Sipping Black Only founders share the story of community members – people on the ground doing face-to-face work – who went into their local bar and asked for a certain beverage. The customer told the manager he wouldn’t come back until the product was available. The next week, the bar featured a picture of the bottle and announced it was available. Now the patron enjoys a variety of Black-owned beverages at the bar they like to frequent.

“It's literally just telling someone and promoting these brands,” says Harris. “It's educating consumers to know they can ask for a certain brand. If you already spend your money there and go there often, you can ask for this.”

“We have a national footprint of consumers who are enthusiasts in their markets generating demand,” she explains. “We strive to generate consumer demand and provide long-term support by cultivating this community of Black-owned beverage enthusiasts. That’s what Sipping Black Only is.”

Two Reasons Why SBO Matters to On-Premise Operations

Neloms cites two reasons why support for Black-owned brands matters to the on-premise operator: “When you look at inequities in the beverage space and the overall market, you can clearly see it's the right thing to do. With all the barriers Black and other diverse entrepreneurs face, socially it’s the right thing to do.

“Ten years ago, there weren't even Black History Month end caps. We’ve made a lot of progress, but if you look at stats, fewer than one percent of the wineries in the States are Black-owned or have a black winemaker; fewer than one percent of craft breweries are black.”

Sipping Black Only - Demetra Harris
Demetra Harris
  (Photo: Courtesy of Sipping Black Only)

Smart Business Move for On-Premise Operators

The second reason to support the SBO mission is simply good business. “This isn’t about charity or social work. This is about commerce,” Neloms says. “Working with these brands is smart business. They elevate the guest experience. They diversify and strengthen your supply chain, so you don’t wait on one distributor or manufacturer. There’s just smart business diversification overall.

“You have the opportunity to make social and economic impact, but the economic impact isn't just for the entrepreneur or the brand. It's for you as a business owner, too. Think about your PR and reputation, the expansion of your clientele and the ability to diversify. You can make a difference at the local level as an independent individual operator or as a part of a larger chain.”

Tastings Expand the On-Premise Palate

If you only have visibility into what your distributor or procurement people funnel to you, you miss the full market view and do yourself and clients a disservice. For example, Harris points out that many venues don’t give much thought to what coffee they're serving, but that’s important for some customers.

“Taste various coffees, so you know what your customer experience is like. Ask us questions; lean to us at SBO for Black-owned choices,” she says.

Consumers want to try new beverage brands when they see them on the drink list. “We need to be doing something because the market is out there. But consumers don't know about these beverages, and they're great brands,” says Neloms. “Invite us in for in-house tastings for you the same way we do Black tastings for consumers. We can do tastings for you as a bar or restaurant team for any on-premise space.”

Making Black-Owned Brands More Visible

“Our platform is to promote and celebrate Black-owned beverages and their founders, but we want everyone to prefer these Black-owned brands. We're working to increase exposure for Black-owned beverage brands,” says Harris.

Neloms points out that not many of these brands promote themselves as Black-owned because in the end, that shouldn’t have to be a marketing point. “This isn’t about charity. It’s fully about commerce,” she says. “But it's not always easy to find out about Black-owned brands. We’re here to connect those dots and make sure we not only have Black-owned products to offer, but on-premise operators and others know about them.

“We’re here to support, push, promote and market the brands, but we do that through a focus on the consumer. That's where we can drive engagement and demand. That's where we shift the needle and connect those dots. That's where we see the growth, and the need is everywhere.”

How On-Premise Can Explore Black-Owned Brands

“We understand the on-premise community juggles a lot with headcount, overhead costs, employee management, marketing and promotion. We recognize it can be time-consuming to expand and go beyond what’s there in front of you,” says Harris.

“We’re here to reduce the effort to explore new brands. Give us an hour, and we can come in. Our goal is exposure and increased demand, so we're not asking the on-prem to jump leaps and bounds. We truly are focused on easy transitions for operators.”

How to Introduce Black-Owned Brands: Start Small. Share Big.

Investing in these brands doesn't always mean sinking thousands of dollars. It could be on the level of buying a bottle, telling someone, sharing it and putting it on your drink list. Create an experience to introduce Black-owned brands for the menu. The on-premise staff can help choose.

“If you have your new Fall drink list coming out at the local bar, include some of these brands as the base of these seasonal drinks. Give customers a chance to taste them,” suggests Harris.

As an example, Neloms and Harris give a shout out to Black-owned coffee bar and restaurant Soiree Coffee Bar in Dallas. “The Dallas-Fort Worth area hasn't been a mecca in the same way Atlanta and other metro areas have for Black-owned beverage brands, but Soiree intentionally stocks their bar with Black brands. They host founders to come in and talk about their brands and share them with their audiences. Multiply that example by hundreds, because smaller on-premise locations around the country are also joining this groundswell support that we're a part of.”

Sipping Black Only
In November 2021, Sipping Black Only held a series of events in Dallas, Texas, to showcase area spirits and brand owners. Left to Right: Henry L. Masters Jr., founder of SweetBeat Vodka; Julian Harris and Demetra Harris of Sipping Black Only; Taylor Redd, founder of Redd Rose Vodka; and Brandon Scott, Curnelius Arnick and Devin Woodson, founders of Tequila with Friends. (Photo: Courtesy of Sipping Black Only)

Use SBO Curation, Consultation to Educate, Accelerate

“On-premise operators and managers are often the front line for introducing consumers to beverages. They're either picking up something that's trending, or they're looking at what's already popular as a way to attract, so they have such an opportunity there to make a difference,” declares Neloms.

“One of the services we offer is curation and consultation. That's a way to ensure the on-premise community is educated and knowledgeable about all the options available, or which brands are trending, emerging or gaining popularity,” she adds. “We raise awareness that if you serve this brand, you open a new market or appeal more to current customers. The on-premise demographic appreciates this type of product.

“One thing that's important is Black-made, Black-owned, Black-founded doesn’t mean for Blacks only,” says Neloms. “Everybody drinks coffee. Everybody drinks water. We just need to expose more people to more of those brands.”

To learn more about Sipping Black Only, visit

Carro Ford is a successful marketer, researcher and writer/reporter based near Lexington, Ky. In addition to being a contributor to Bar & Restaurant, she's worked in numerous industries and is also the author of The Smartass Marketer's Handbook: A Guide to B2B Marketing with Attitude.

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