Veteran entrepreneur seeks to elevate Black culture
Growing up poor in North Carolina, Mike Loyd was always looking for a way out.He found one by enlisting in the Marines in 2010. After seven years in the military, Loyd rose to become a captain and was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. As a combat engineer, he built bridges. Loyd, 36, is still building them.
He is the co-founder and CEO of Dope Coffee, a minority-run online business that aims to uplift the Black community through a product Americans consume at a rate of 146 billion cups annually. Each drop comes with a message.
“We can’t let other groups of people define us,’’ Mike said. “When you start building your own self-worth off someone else’s values, you’re always coming out of the bottom at that point.’’
Loyd and his wife, Chel, owned a couple of drive-thru coffee shops called Solar Cafe near Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, but they were destroyed by Hurricane Florence in 2018. They left the brick-and-mortar scene, moved to Atlanta and focused on Dope Coffee.
The Loyds did not follow a traditional business model. They use hip-hop to connect with customers.
“If you look around America, there’s not too many places where we get to speak in a way that our voice is heard in a way we want it to be heard,’’ Mike said. “Hip-hop gives us that opportunity.’’
For Dope Coffee, which employs eight people, a key mission is to empower potential Black entrepreneurs and show them how to create jobs in their communities. The Loyds call it “elevating Black culture.’’
“What we saw happening in the world not only was directly happening to us, but we also wanted to change it,’’ said Chel, who is in charge of product development and logistics. “We knew that’s not how it should be, especially for people who are very, very talented and want good change for the world.’’
The Loyds put a lot of thought into selecting their company’s product and name. The history of coffee can be traced to Ethiopia, but Chel said it traditionally has not been marketed to Black people.
“The way it’s given to people of color is more along the lines of Folgers or instant coffee or some sludge you’re supposed to drink,’’ she said.
Dope Coffee wanted to change that, along with making consumers think. The term dope has various meanings, which the Loyds said they found appealing.
The name doubles as a conversation starter.
“Some people are going to get it and say, ‘That’s cool,’’’ Mike said. “And some people are going to hate it. [I wanted to] create such a polarizing proposition where you’re going to have to fall on one side or the other.’’
Loyd has evolved from the boy raised on the wrong side of town.
He is working on his MBA. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history at Wake Forest University, where he ran track before earning a master’s in education from North Carolina A&T. The father of three also operates a nonprofit, the 1G Break the Wealth Gap Foundation.
Loyd wants the Black community to see what is possible, one cup at a time.
“As Black people, we can’t always be talking about 15-year investment schemes,’’ Loyd said. “A lot of what we’re talking about in America right now is long term, but that’s not where my community’s at. They need cash tomorrow. This is a lot of what I learned in the Marine Corps, with the ranks and the buttons and the symbols. I get it. They’re building a culture around this visual of what a Marine is. I was like, ‘That’s all my community is missing, is those levels.’’’