[Photo courtesy of Cleveland Cold Brew Coffee]
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Karen Ross’ journey to serve culturally-inclusive coffee in Cleveland began in 2002. It started as a stand called “Zanzibar Coffee and Espresso Bar.”
“Zanzibar, to me, represented like the origins of coffee, which is Africa, and it had a nice tropical feel to it. So, I just wanted to come up with a name that was comfortable for everybody,” said Karen Ross, owner of Cleveland Cold Brew Coffee.
Over the years, her business model evolved and she renamed her brand Cleveland Cold Brew Coffee.
She drew inspiration from the Cleveland Cavaliers after the team’s first NBA championship win in 2016.
“That was my dare to myself. If they won the championship I was going to go full on with this, and so I felt that putting Cleveland in the name represented our resilience as a city, as a people,” said Ross.
Since January 2020, her cafe has been located in a new building in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood, thanks to an effort from the city called the “Neighborhood Transformation Initiative.”
But construction and COVID-19 have presented challenge after challenge.
“We were having our best week that we had had in some time, like that first, second week in March, and then COVID hit and then it just kind of all went away. Business went from 100% to 0% because people stopped coming out and everything like that,” said Ross.
Ross is turning a corner — now working to sell her products online, as well as manufacture and bottle her cold brew.
“I’m real hopeful that we can end 2020 on an up note,” said Ross.
The Greater Cleveland Partnership is the Chamber of Commerce for the City of Cleveland and surrounding areas. It includes more than 12,000 member businesses and it’s broken down into six divisions to serve businesses, both big and small.
Megan Kim of the GCP says it exists to help local entrepreneurs like Ross, and the pandemic has reaffirmed the importance of their work.
“There is just so much support that’s needed and again, that’s for the businesses who already exist and they’re trying to survive and they’re trying to access all of the solutions and support that are out there, but also a lot of these new budding entrepreneurs who see this as a chance to be their own boss and do something they really want to do with their lives, we’re here to help them as well,” said Kim.
In August, GCP rolled out a new online tool called Northeast Ohio Business Growth Compass.
The concept is an expansion of the Business Growth Collaborative, which is a long-standing relationship between several local organizations all geared toward helping business owners thrive.
“We’ve made it very simple. A business goes on, they can answer a few questions about themselves, stage of business, what size they are, and then they can identify their needs, and then they’ll get a list of all of the partners in the entrepreneur ecosystem who can offer them help and support,” said Kim.
Collaboration is key and Ross hopes other businesses take advantage of the available resources.
“It’s a very timely tool to help us. It’s not like our cries are falling on deaf ears. These organizations are definitely here to help us as small businesses to grow,” said Ross.