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Love Thy Community Presents BKLYN Blend
Introducing the latest addition to our enduring Love Thy Community Program. In collaboration with Vault by Vans, we are thrilled to highlight the inspiring narrative of four individuals who united under BKLYN Blend to empower underserved areas of Brooklyn.
Edson Cooper, Keishon Warren, Ali Coutard, and Ralph Warren have joined forces to establish BKLYN Blend—a haven dedicated to providing nutritional education and resources to communities identified as food deserts.
Since its establishment in 2016, BKLYN Blend has emerged as a local cornerstone, renowned for its unique menu offerings and inclusive ambiance. BKLYN Blend exemplifies the strength of community, and we are proud to contribute to their mission of making wholesome food accessible to all.
How did the four of you come together to create BKLYN Blend? Why would you say this is the perfect team for the job?
Every founding member is dope! Everyone has an expertise and brings unique strengths and abilities. It all began with Edson Cooper, our Executive Chef, who brought the concept to Keishon Warren, who majored in business. Together they decided to expand on Ed’s skill to create BKLYN Blend. The two then proposed the idea to Ali, their long time best friend and a healthcare professional, and to Ralph Warren, Keishon’s father who is better known as “Pops,” to put the plan into action. BKLYN Blend was designed by Keishon, was built and maintained by Pops, the menu items were curated by Edson and the business is managed by Keishon and Ali – essentially, the perfect team for the job.
How would you describe BKLYN Blend’s mission?
BKLYN Blend hangs its brand on “Spread[ing] Love, It’s the Brooklyn Way!” Love is at the heart of everything we do here. Our mission in creating BKLYN Blend is serving neighborhoods that are considered “food deserts,” with little access to healthy foods. We understand how important and impactful it is to provide clean food, nutrition education and a safe space for our communities.
BKLYN Blend was constructed with reclaimed wood and materials sourced from various parts of Brooklyn, including the Coney Island boardwalk, old water tanks and demolished buildings in Bed-Stuy. Why and how did this idea transpire?
Our goal was to construct a space that signifies the core elements of Brooklyn. In alignment with our name and our brand, we sourced materials from all corners of this amazing city and repurposed it into our space. Pops built everything with his own hands. He made every table, countertop and floor with reclaimed materials. He even built the refrigerators. Although people were skeptical about the size of the undertaking, we learned through the process to never doubt Pops, especially when he says his famous line, “It’s 1, 2, 3.” We all find joy and solace knowing that BKLYN Blend physically represents Brooklyn.
Can you explain your design choices on the sneaker and the t-shirt?
The design choices were made with the intention of showing some of the greatest parts of Brooklyn. Each landmark carries deeply-rooted history and plays an important role in making Brooklyn one of the greatest places on earth. It represents diversity, resilience, culture and community. We wanted to represent every part of Brooklyn because we all “blend” together.
Why is this collaboration important for BKLYN Blend?
We were extremely excited to work with Kith. The way the company began, its evolution, and the way that Ronnie Fieg works to uplift and amplify businesses and the communities they serve is something that resonates with us. Vault by Vans’ “Love Thy community” initiative gave us an opportunity to extend our brand’s reach with a capsule that directly reflects our core business principles. We love what we do and our community.
As Black entrepreneurs, what advice would you give to other people of color with dreams of starting their own businesses?
Ed: Work hard and don't give up on your dream. It may take a while, but if you believe in yourself, it will come.
Pops: If you can dream it, you can make it happen. You always have to be positive. Even if you feel like quitting, don't give up. Sometimes it can take ninety-nine tries, but that one time you succeed is all that matters.
Keishon: Never chase the money. A lot of people go into business because of this, and they fail because of exactly this. There will be many sleepless nights with no paychecks, but with passion, everything will fall into place.
Ali: Do it yourself. Many of our communities don't have generational wealth to give. Make sure your credit is up to par and get those loans. Lastly, have faith in your partners and trust the process. Every mistake in life is a learning experience.
Can you share some experiences from the past seven years that have helped drive your vision for the business?
Pops: Since before COVID-19, we have kids come into the store to learn about nutrition. That really makes my heart swell. We speak with them about things like the effects of certain foods, or the importance of vitamin C, which is great, but the goal is for them to take that knowledge to their parents, friends and their communities, in order to expand that audience and spread the word even further about the effects of healthy eating.
Ali: We were teaching kids how to blend their own smoothies! We had the “Ninja Turtle Drink” which consisted of mango, pineapple and spinach, and the “Dora Drink” which consisted of pineapple, strawberry, banana and guava. That became their “candy” or their “treat.” Now imagine if they go home and do this with their families. We want to impact our communities as deeply as possible. Keishon is at the forefront of this. He’s always thinking of ways to impact the community.
Ed: I remember a six year old kid coming into the store and ordering a juice with kale, spinach and ginger. I was shocked. I gave it to him and he drank the whole thing. I felt like we were doing something right.
Keishon: One thing that I am very proud of is that we are able to go into communities that a lot of other businesses may not normally go into. When we opened our East New York location, I remember people asking me “Are you crazy? On Livonia? Really?” It’s critical that our communities have the same access to these tools that other communities do. One time, a gentleman who lived in the neighborhood came to the shop and said, “This place is too nice for this neighborhood.” I didn’t get it. Why do you feel like this is too nice for you? Why do you feel that you should have to leave our community to have access to beautiful businesses and healthy options? Us being here is changing that narrative, and will bring other businesses into the neighborhood. It’s moving for us to see the effects that we’re having on our communities. We’re not here to take. We’re here to give.
Lastly, where can we find you?
We currently have 2 locations - although you can expect many more to come. Our Bed-Stuy location is at 194 Tompkins Avenue and our East New York location is at 601 Livonia Avenue. You can also find us on instagram at @bklynblend!