Welcome Black Community Founders: Brandi Neloms, Demetra & Julian Harris
I had the honor of sitting down (virtually, of course) with three trailblazers who are heeding the call to help Black business owners reach new heights. Demetra, Julian, and Brandi share a vision to “elevate the black experience - one cork, one pour, one sip at a time”. As a husband and wife team, Demetra & Julian have been supporting all things black-owned for years. From their doctors, dentists, and optometrist to much of what they fill their home with; they do business with black businesses. Demetra, Founder & CEO, as a lover of food and wine, began to seek out black-owned beverage companies. To her pleasant surprise there were many, but too many that she hadn’t ever heard of and that didn’t sit well with her.
So she got to work, not only finding these black beverage owners and supporting them but also creating a community for them to thrive. Julian, Chief Operating Officer, partnered with his wife to start thinking about the bigger picture - helping these business owners raise capital, get exposure, and have continuous revenue growth. The community quickly expanded beyond wine as Demetra was further immersed into the beverage arena. Her tastes and preferences for all types of beverages changed. Tea, water, coffee, juice, soda, lemonade whatever she was drinking - more often than not she found a (‘far superior' in Sipping Black Only’s eyes) black-owned brand. Many of these brands are small businesses operated by entrepreneurs who are at home right now as you’re reading this, “making some tea or putting something together", Demetra explains in excitement. That excitement resonates through their community of black-owned beverage enthusiasts.
Brandi, Chief Strategy Officer and co-owner, and Demetra have been friends for close to ten years. They met in 2015 through mutual friends and Brandi describes their friendship as a “divine connection around their shared love”. Their connection shines throughout the interview as they finish each other's sentences about Sipping Black Only. These brilliant black women are leaders in their careers who share a mutual mission to support the community and most importantly black owners. Brandi gives Demetra flowers for her CEO mentality from day one, sharing that in 2020, “Demetra's like, ‘Hey, Girl, Let me send you this NDA. I got an idea.’ And I mention the NDA, one because we’re friends and it's funny, and two because that shows the initial seed of being business minded. And…making sure that you are owning and honing your own idea so that even amongst friends, no matter what proficiencies you think that person has, or what way she thought I could help, she was very much like you're either gonna sign or not.”
Bringing her expertise in brand building, marketing, social, and PR to the fold has garnered more traction for these businesses. Her skills in business strategy have helped create a community of collaboration in which fellow enthusiasts request black-owned beverages at local restaurants and bars. From the beverage owners to their consumers, everyone is demanding black-owned to accomplish the goal of getting as many of them as possible on the shelf. The Sipping Black Only vision is clear. “Being firm on the vision and flexible on the details”, is where Brandi credits their success. Julian gives similar advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, “we didn’t let any of the naysayers come in…we didn’t listen to any of that. If I had to tell anyone who was looking to get into entrepreneurship something, or entrepreneurs in it, then it’s to stay the course. That’s it, stay the course”
Demetra adds as advice for entrepreneurs, “ask questions. Don’t feel like you have to know it all, but ask other people, ask for advice, and ask for input. If I didn't ask questions, I would have not known that [Sipping Black Only] was necessarily needed. When you ask questions, you never know what you’ll gain from it.” Flexibility as an entrepreneur truly is key, you have to quickly learn to pivot, adapt and be open to new ways of doing things. If you listen to any of the leading business figures of today, you know that worrying about the "how" is a blocker. The "how" will come and should evolve over time. This trio didn’t focus on the how, they focused on the vision, and the "how" formed before their eyes.
How they began and where they are today has been nothing less than a blessing. Demetra knew she wanted to “get more people to buy black-owned beverages”, Brandi details the community’s origin story. They started with a simple Instagram page that shared these brands and then began to host live tasting events. That progressed to meeting with local establishments to tell them their gaps and fill them with black brands. They tell them who their customers are and what black beverages they should be buying. “Or what coffee they should be serving”, Brandi goes on. As the business grew, they thought, “Let's offer a grant. When [Sipping Black Only] was just an Instagram page and events, we weren’t thinking that we could give [brands] money. But here we are. The vision has been firm, but with the flexibility on how to get there. There are things that we no longer do, that we used to. Like you just let the details adjust but stay focused on that NorthStar.”
Julian is second to give flowers, the support between the three of them is contagious and beautiful to see. When discussing how Demetra and Brandi have bootstrapped the business, he adds, “I'm sitting next to two corporate-prenuers who have taken their “day jobs” and funded the brainchild and the visions that they've gotten. Myself, I essentially volunteer at that school [where I work]. They don't pay much in education”. He continues, “Like you're gonna need capital to do what you're going to do, right? And if it can come from you, amazing. Fund yourself, believe in yourself, and bet on yourself. And that's what I've learned from these two lovely ladies, to bet on yourself. And if it takes you putting in the work and taking your own money, answering to the man, if you want to call it that, then do that.”
Black Business Ally is proud to add the owners of Sipping Black Only as members who are committed to others’ growth. Taking their own money to fund a vision centered around helping others succeed is a powerful thing that will undoubtedly result in unlimited returns. Not only for them as leaders but for their entire community of over 7,000 fellow black-owned beverage enthusiasts. Remember that relationships are the new currency with word of mouth still being the greatest sales tool. When a sale isn’t the goal but the spot on the shelf is, imagine how much more visibility and demand is generated for each of those black-owned brands. The Harrises and Brandi are paving their way through promotion, community, and celebration. The Harrises pave numerous entrepreneurial paths, as owners of multiple businesses including a studio for photography & videography, an intimate event space, photo booth & movie screen rentals, and day-of wedding coordination. “Then we have our wonderful newest, baby Sipping Black Only. I guess she's a toddler now. She's walking.” Demetra laughs in awe at how they’ve grown. Brandi agrees, “Yeah, new baby is walking and talking.”