High school best friends create the first Black-owned gourmet sliced bread company

Charles Alexander (from left), Mark Edmond and Jamel Lewis, the founders of The Black Bread Company, pose for a picture.
Charles Alexander (from left), Mark Edmond and Jamel Lewis, the founders of The Black Bread Company, pose for a picture. (Marvin-Alexander)

By Diamond Palmer
Medill Reports

The history of sliced bread goes back to 1928, but it has left out Black creators since then. This means endless shelves of sliced bread without any Black brands for almost a century. Imagine walking into the local grocery store and finding no Black-owned sliced bread. This is the experience Charles Alexander, Mark Edmond and Jamel Lewis share.

“My wife gave me a grocery list, [and] at the top of the list was bread,” Edmond said. “I wanted to buy everything that was Black-owned, and this huge bread aisle had absolutely no Black-owned bread. I literally was in the aisle for 35 minutes. Out of frustration, I left.”

Immediately, Edmond called his best friends from high school, Lewis and Alexander. “History started at that point,” Edmond said.

Over the course of the past year, these Chicago friends of 20 years developed Chicago-based The Black Bread Company, the first Black-owned gourmet sliced bread brand. Edmond is now director of sales for the company. Maintaining their friendship and the entrepreneurial journey was the core of the team’s goals. Lewis, the director of marketing, suggested conducting “check-ins” during the process of building their business. A simple reminder that their friendship came first was a steppingstone for their success.

Building on one another’s business skills, the team of best friends was able to determine their company design, create a website, select whole ingredients for their sliced bread and hire a co-packer to help launch The Black Bread Company.

 

 Jamel Lewis (from left), Mark Edmond and Charles Alexander at the co-packing facility where The Black Bread Company’s gourmet sliced bread is stamped “bold and fresh.”
Jamel Lewis (from left), Mark Edmond and Charles Alexander at the co-packing facility where The Black Bread Company’s gourmet sliced bread is stamped “bold and fresh.” (The Black Bread Company)

 

“[With] being Black and starting the first Black sliced bread company comes a level of swag, level of uniqueness, pride and excellence,” Alexander, the director of communication at The Black Bread Company, said. “We wanted Black people and anyone else when they see the first ever, it looks like the first ever and it doesn’t look like something that’s copied or duplicated. We wanted to be 100% authentic.”

Being authentic, to the team at The Black Bread Company, means being comfortable in competition with other brands and confident within their own. As an independent business, this means relying on community support to rally behind their sliced bread to make sure it is represented across grocery store shelves nationwide — including in food deserts or other neighborhoods that lack a range of grocery options.

“Bread is the foundation of food, and we pride ourselves on providing something to marginalized communities,” Lewis said. “We can say we have something in our areas that we come from.”

Since The Black Bread Company’s soft launch almost one month ago,  it has prided itself on being available online nationwide through pre-order. Online customers can also sign up for the “Private Bread Club” to get a subscription package bi-weekly or monthly. Shoppers can also support The Black Bread Company by requesting the gourmet sliced bread in their local stores starting this month, the team notes. Currently, The Black Bread Company is available in two physical locations in Chicago: Dill Pickle Food Co-op and Sugar Beet Food Co-op.

“Us saying ‘request Black Bread Company in your local stores’ isn’t really about us,” Alexander said. “It’s beyond this brand; it’s way beyond our company and our business. It’s for those who are coming behind us and next to us. It’s way beyond us; it’s a legacy beyond all of us.”

The Black Bread Company can be found on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Diamond Palmer is a community and culture reporter at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @diamondpalmertv.

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