We had the good fortune of connecting with Rodrick James and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rodrick, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I was Executive Chef in some of the largest casinos throughout the United States. After over 28 years of being an Executive Chef, making over $120,000 a year, in 2016 I woke up one morning and decided I did not want to do that anymore. And thus began the start of establishing myself as “The Coffeeman”.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I grew up in the projects of Louisiana. I served eight years in the U.S. Army; 4 years active / 4 years National Guard. After leaving the Army I attended “The Culinary Institute of America” chef school. The Army paid for my chef’s school. As I mentioned earlier, I was Executive Chef in some of the largest casinos throughout the United States. After over 28 years of being an Executive Chef, making over $120,000 a year, in 2016 I woke up one morning and decided I did not want to do that anymore.
I moved on and opened a snow cone shop. I then began looking at coffee shops, because when you look at the big picture, there are not many black-owned coffee shops. In 2016 I opened my first coffee shop, Canal Coffee, in Kinder, Louisiana, expanding within 6 months and opening a second shop in Oberlin, and two more in Oakdale and Shreveport, Louisiana. I was the first minority to open a 100% black-owned business, a full coffee shop, in Diamond Jacks casino in Shreveport. Taking advantage of my chef experience, inside my coffee shops I also offered a lite lunch, selling sandwiches and salads.
I got out of the coffee shop business, sold the businesses, and purchased two food trucks.
In a 3½ year period, I had opened 6 businesses. I built my businesses from the ground up with no partners, no investors and without ever taking a bank loan. I borrowed from myself. I was awarded Small Business of the Year in 2018. Also, in 2018 I was recognized in Washington, D.C. on the house floor at a leadership press conference.
I was only in the food truck business for about 3 months before losing everything in 2020 in Hurricane Laura, a deadly and destructive Category 4 hurricane in Louisiana. Most people didn’t hear about Hurricane Laura because it wasn’t New Orleans. But it was just as destructive as Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina was water; Hurricane Laura was wind.
After losing everything, it definitely has not been a smooth road at all. Imagine being very successful and reaching a high point, and then losing everything. Imagine having a $350,000 take home yearly income and waking up one morning and it’s all gone. It was nothing that I did wrong, just the work of God and mother nature. Although I lost everything, I realized that I didn’t lose anything because God had another plan. With the faith that I had, and trust me I did question my faith, I had to also trust the process.
I had to figure out a way to put the pieces back together. In 2020 I picked up and moved to Dallas in the middle of the pandemic. I chose Dallas because of the way it was spread out and there was lots of money to be made in the Dallas area.
I knew my journey was going to be hard because I did not know anyone! I couldn’t go to someone and ask them to do a podcast, no one knew me. I couldn’t go to a radio station and ask them to interview me, they didn’t know me. I couldn’t go to the news stations because I knew no one. I couldn’t ask a friend to “put in a good word for me” because I knew no one. And here I was in the middle of a pandemic with everything being closed down, not knowing anyone and trying to start over and build a business. Not a smooth road at all.
Losing however was not an option for me. I am not prideful. I took advantage of parks and street corners, doing something no one else was doing – selling coffee and frozen lemonades in a bow tie on a 4-foot table in parks and on the side of the road.
At my first park I sold seven drinks. I was there about three hours and made $35.00; that was it. I went back two days later and set up again. Parents started coming over with their kids. I started meeting people and going to different locations from then on. I’m now at law firms, ballparks, banks, daycare centers, schools, weddings, birthday parties, company events, private events, salons, bookstores, apartment complexes, church events, pretty much everywhere.
I sell espressos, cappuccinos, lattes, frappes, macchiatos, iced coffee and frozen lemonades. I recently created a special frozen lemonade honoring track star Sha’Carri Richardson.
I mentioned earlier that God had another plan. I realized that although I lost everything, I did not lose myself. I came to the conclusion that God didn’t want me doing something in front of 800,000 people; he wants me to do it in front of 8 million people. And if I had stayed where I was I would never reach the potential God has for me.
I am a one-man show and I put on a show! At the casinos I was always on stage. The casinos taught me a lot about customer service and being “on stage”. I am known for my energy, my passion, my consistency, the “show,” and the customer service I provide to my guests. I am grateful for the DFW area loving and accepting me when I knew no one. Because of God and the support of the “DF-Dubb,” I have become the #1 pop-up in the area! I work long hours, some you see and some you don’t, putting in hard work and giving my all. People literally come from miles away for the Coffeeman experience! Even the Tamara Hall show has reached out to me for my story.
I’m also all about community and getting involved in the community. I believe in helping people and not putting people down. I love supporting our youth. I want to set an example for the younger generation. For any school events I give 25% earnings back to the school. I also have supporters who “pay it forward”. This allows me to provide drinks for youth whose parents may not be able to afford it.
Building a brand and business is not a part-time job. It’s a full-time job. I want to leave everyone who’s trying to start a business with two words: “God” and “hustle”.
In the next few months I will have my own brand of coffee. I will also begin selling t-shirts. I will also get some food trucks and begin selling franchises. In two years I will be a millionaire. #coffeemansaidit
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I, The Coffeeman, posts a weekly schedule. If I had guests visiting the area, I would certainly have them track down where The Coffeeman is and make sure my guest or whomever is visiting the area, gets to experience the #1 Pop Up in the DFW or any black-owned business. You can pretty much find me throughout the DFW area.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I cannot overlook the fact that I grew up in the projects of Louisiana; that was my upbringing. You see a lot of good and you see a lot of bad. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It built who I am. I had huge support and success in Louisiana. I’m thankful for the support that I received there.
I moved to the Dallas / Ft. Worth area in 2020. I am grateful for the DFW area loving, accepting and supporting me as I establish myself and begin my journey here.