Founder of Red Bay Coffee, Keba Konte, is no newbie to innovation. In 2014, the San Francisco native combined his passion for photographic journalism and coffee to create a Coffee Dojo that simultaneously served as the headquarters of Red Bay Coffee and a daily art exhibit that showcased his photography.

With such creative ingenuity, it’s no surprise that Konte honed his entrepreneurial acumen when the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard. Due to coronavirus, Forbes reports Red Bay Coffee’s retail stores had to shut down resulting in an 85 percent decline in sales and a drastic reduction in his workforce.

Now, that some of his six retail locations are reopened, he says the decline is only about 40 percent. However, according to Forbes, the Oakland, California coffee hub has seen a 350 percent increase in e-commerce sales since the start of the pandemic.

Before the stay-at-home regulations, Red Bay Coffee’s supermarket sales from Whole Foods and Safeway made up 17 percent of overall sales. Plus, foot traffic into its brick-and-mortar shops contributed about 35 percent to the company’s overall revenue.

Forbes reports that Red Bay’s e-commerce spike in sales is due to its Silicon Valley customers resorting to online purchases of the company’s coffee beans.

“Then there’s another group who were drinking our coffee at our cafés, and we had to close most of them. They too have turned to having their coffee beans shipped,” Konte told Forbes.

The pandemic also caused a stop to Red Bay’s event hosting income. The 7,000 square-foot building also serves as a hosting site for film screenings, weddings, and live music. Unfortunately, this stream of income came to a halt once stay-at-home orders were enforced. 

“We did 250 events last year, all have been forced to close because of social distancing rules due to the pandemic crisis,” Konte said. 

His creativity prevailed once again with the development of a mobile coffee van that he parks outside of Costco and Trader Joe’s. 

“It’s been a lifeline and great brand exposure, we sold it through six-foot distances and cashless transactions on the van,” Konte said.

The mobile van sells coffee, tea, and oat milk cartons. According to Forbes, the van has seen much success and Konte has already secured a second van with plans to launch its operation this summer.

Red Bay’s motto is “Africa’s gift to the world” which references the Ethiopian origin of coffee. There’s no doubt that the company embodies the resilient spirit of Africa — the foundation of Konte’s inspiration for brewing coffee and his artwork. 

Even though the pandemic has disrupted business as usual Konte sees the silver lining despite hardships. 

“In the future, we have the muscle to push ourselves into various channels, and yet we’re still small enough to be nimble to adapt to the current environment,” he told Forbes. 

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