Three D.C. businessmen put community before profit

With help from the Washington D.C. community, three African American entrepreneurs were able to fulfill their dream of ownership. These businessmen now use their platform to lend support to community initiatives.

“The incentive of starting the Village Cafe came from the idea of me and my friends just wanting to combine our own business ideas to make one business all-together. We all really wanted to create opportunities for the community, from the community,” says Mahammad Mangum, one of three owners of the Village Cafe.

In October of 2018, three D.C. natives and former classmates opened The Village Cafe in the Union Market District of Washington, D.C. Creative Director Mangum, Business Director Kevon King and Culinary Director Ryan Williams opened the business with hopes of creating a space for local entrepreneurs and artists to connect with the Washington D.C. community.

According to the Black Business Directory,  28% of businesses in Washington, D.C. are owned by black people. While this may be the highest ratio of black-owned businesses in the nation, the owners of the Village Cafe find value in this number significantly increasing.

“If you’re familiar with Union Market, you’d know that it’s a community market. So the whole point of our business is to help other businesses and other young people who want to start businesses,” says Mangum.

What has been the best method of communication between the Village Cafe and the community?

Mangum says, “A lot of what we do attracts people to come. We have really gotten people to come through our events.”

“In less than a year of being open through word of mouth,” he continued, “things that we post and our events we have have had the privilege of already being able to host many fundraisers like a toy drive during the Christmas season, a book drive and now we’re doing the prom drive which is very important.”

The Village Cafe has become a service-oriented business– they are currently partnered with the lifestyle blog “Project 4206” to fundraise for students who can’t afford to cover prom attire expenses. This fundraiser is a call of action to the community to donate funding, formal wear and accessories to underprivileged students who wish to attend their high school prom.

What’s the message that you all are trying to relay through this business? Mangum says, “We’re trying to emphasize the importance of community and working together. We have partnered with locally sourced businesses to produce 80% of the product that we sell in the cafe. Out of this amount, 64% are locally sourced by women-owned businesses. This is what we’re all about. We want to help businesses of D.C.”

The young entrepreneurs needed the support of the community when the business started. Mangum says they used sources like GoFundMe to raise the necessary capital to start the business. He says, “We did a lot of crowdfunding. We raised 10,000 dollars through Kiva and just over five-thousand through GoFundMe.”

Unlike other startup companies, the owners of the Village Cafe do not solely focus on building their brand and business; they wholeheartedly believe in paying it forward. While this business thrives on supporting local community endeavors, they emphasize the importance of linking arms with the community to help each other succeed.

“I support them 100%. First, because they’re young African American men who grew up in D.C., I’m a native of D.C., so I’m 100% all about that. Their customer service is really good, they’re always on time, and anything I get from them is always an A-plus,” says loyal customer Tanya Carter.

Quality service is what the Village Cafe is all about. This sentiment is held true by Mangum who says, “We want to use entrepreneurship, access to quality nutritious foods and creative innovation to create a flourishing community. So if we can build a community within this little space, we know that we can create a real hub for everyone.”