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Coffee Talk for the BIPOC Community

SMALL BUSINESS: Spilling the Beans on a Successful Co-op

It’s been one year since Café X: By Any Beans Necessary opened its doors in the Sherman Heights area of San Diego, an employee-owned cooperative with uplifting the Black, Indigenous and People Of Color community at its heart and a welcoming vibe in its soul.

Part of the cultural hub/community space called 1835 Studios, a 7,000-square-feet combination of creative spots, galleries and retail units with more than 10,000 SF of outdoor space along Imperial Avenue – Café X just celebrated its one-year anniversary.

Café X’s cozy confines boasts bold murals and framed photos and paintings by local artists lining its walls, plants from Blk Girls Who Garden scattered throughout, games and coloring books for kids, gently used paperbacks for trade and new hardcovers for sale, plus a steady stream of relaxing music playing in the background – along with the smell of coffee permeating the air.

Khea Pollard
Jewish Family Service of San Diego

Café X is at its essence what founder and CEO Khea Pollard envisioned.

Pollard, who is also currently the director of economic mobility and opportunity for Jewish Family Service of San Diego, sought to provide for the Black and marginalized communities in San Diego County a communal gathering spot for local grassroots action groups, a central location for healing and empowerment meetings, and a place for people just looking to chill.

But Pollard wanted much more than that for Café X, named for human rights activist Malcolm X.

With the endeavor, Pollard is looking to bring about structural change, bridging gaps in the Black business community, working to build a base of generational wealth and helping to grow the economic vitality of the Black community as a whole.

Cynthia Ajani
Co-owner and Director of Operations
Café X: By Any Beans Necessary

And she is doing that, while working alongside her mother, Café X co-owner and director of operations Cynthia Ajani.

“My mom’s leadership and vision, her willingness to put in the work and help build a sound infrastructure was like a breath of fresh air,” Pollard said. “Her loyalty to the vision and also me as a person really made (Café X) take off.”

Ajani has a Bachelor of Business Administration with a minor in health care administration from National University, and worked in the healthcare field for more than 20 years followed by another decade working for nonprofit organizations before signing on with Pollard to grow Café X.

With Pollard and Ajani’s vision, determination and hard work, Café X bounced back from a bit of a rough start when it originally opened at a different location in late 2019, closing in 2020 after Covid-19 challenges. Ajani said she and Pollard stayed focused and stayed in contact with people who were ready to hit the ground running when the time was right.

“But there was a lot of preparation done in that vein,” “We were able to stay relevant,” Ajani said. “I have watched the numbers grow, of people wanting to get involved. While it was challenging, it was necessary for the work moving forward with it. I say if we survived in the worst of times, we’re going to do great in the best of times.”

Café X’s roots actually date back to 2015, starting as a community action project by RISE San Diego fellow Pollard, a San Diego native with a bachelor’s in English and ethnic studies and a master’s degree in nonprofit leadership and management from University of San Diego.

“As part of RISE, I started to think about what is important, and ‘How can I add value to a healthy and happy, actualized community?’” Pollard said. “‘How can we have our needs met?’ That’s when I started thinking about primarily economic development.”

Pollard said the Café X model is “pick something and do it well, be an expert at that.”

In addition to a menu of coffee favorites and coffee specialties, along with muffins, scones, cookies, cakes and more from local BIPOC-owned bakeries, Café X even sells bags of its signature “The X Factor” house blend coffee.

“I don’t feel like we need to hop on every trend,” Pollard said. “I think what we do works for us. We’re secure in what we do well, seeing people and helping people be seen, helping people actualize talent in a communal space while experiencing host service. We recognize what our niche is, which is the experience you have when you’re here and the building that happens when you’re here. That’s really critical. We just want to be really good at what we do.”

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