Akera Sellers traveled extensively as a young professional in finance—and during that time, he had his fair share of coffee. He soon became fixated not only on the quality of the coffee beans, but on the freshness in which each cup was served. Exchanging banks for beans, Sellers founded Brickhouse Gourmet Coffee Tea & Co., a gourmet beverage company that delivers fresh coffee and teas. Curating a selection of hand-picked coffee beans and tea leaves from around the world, Brickhouse performs all roasting and brewing processes in-house in South Carolina. Through their online retail store, Brickhouse offers unique coffee blends in all different forms, from whole bean to espresso grind, as well as numerous gourmet tea options like South African Rooibos herbal tea, apple spice flavored tea, and Japan Sencha loose leaf green tea. With a variety of special blends and origins, Brickhouse says customers can expect “a unique experience with every sip.”
We spoke with Akera and business partner Derrick Holland to discuss all things coffee, tea, and their business journeys as young entrepreneurs.
How did you become interested in the coffee and tea business?
Derrick: My background was in culinary arts and food science. I worked in a few restaurants. When I got my food science degree, I did quality assurance for a chocolate manufacturer. I also did product formulation and flavor houses for food companies around the nation. Food in general and the science behind it has always been something that excites me. So it wasn’t a big jump for me to go into the coffee and tea world.
Akera: The only prior experience I have in coffee or tea was simply drinking it. Before this, I was actually a financial analyst working at the Mercantile Exchange. Part of my job required a lot of international travel. During that time, I looked forward to two things: a good meal and a really good cup of coffee. What intrigued me the most was not that I was getting a good cup of coffee, but the way it was served—which was always fresh. That’s what I wanted to capture and share and bring back home. That experience is what motivated me to learn more about the coffee business and eventually start Brickhouse.
Can you talk more about your process for sourcing and delivering fresh coffee?
Akera: Originally, our mission was just to deliver freshly roasted coffee. We actually started working with co-ops to help provide access to regions that grow the beans that we’re looking for. We also work with these co-ops to collaborate on future projects, not only on the coffee spectrum, but also on projects that involve the local communities. We have some in Africa and South America as well. As I mentioned, I wanted to bring that experience of delivering freshly roasted coffee home. I actually purchased a small, personal home-roasting machine, so that I always had access to fresh coffee. Soon, I reached out to a friend that had over 20 years of experience roasting coffee. I shared my idea with him and luckily for me he was available to join me on this adventure. He’s currently our roast master.
Being that your initial focus was coffee, how did you learn the ins and outs of the tea business?
Derrick: Some people are not much of coffee drinkers, so we wanted to give them an alternative—which was tea. Our initial goal was to understand the different taste profiles and health benefits that these plants provide. That’s what pretty much locked our interest. The best teacher of life is experience. We grabbed different ingredients, from hibiscus to rose tips. We create our own unique blends and just mess around with them. There have been some failures, but there’s also been ones that have been considered favorites. We find ourselves drinking a lot of tea. To me, that’s one of the most fun parts—just exploring within that manner. Seeing what works, combining the different health benefits, while also making sure the taste profiles are the best. We go through many cups of tea, but we’re like students. We’re students of life. We’ve done a lot of studying of the background on teas, but we find the best teacher is experience.
What advice has helped you build your business as an entrepreneur?
Akera: My kids and I have always enjoyed watching “Family Feud.” There was one show where Steve Harvey actually stopped at the end and went into detail about jumping. You’re taking a chance. You’re trying something new. If you’re passionate about something, if you have ideas, if you have plans—in order for you to understand or experience them, you have to jump. My advice or response to that is: this is all by experience. If you’re truly passionate about something, don’t hesitate. Give it a shot. See how it goes. Expect to fail. If you do, just pick yourself back up and continue to look forward. There’s always going to be light at the end of the tunnel. You just gotta keep pushing through.
I follow a lot of entrepreneurs and other small business owners. There’s a podcast called How I Built This. I think hearing other entrepreneurs share their stories and challenges and failures and successes is what I use as mentorship.
What lessons did you learn from 2020?
Akera: 2020 in America has been one heck of a year for us all. I can speak for us all—as a family and as a business— that no matter what unforeseen circumstances may arise, as long as we remain resilient, we can definitely get through anything. We have proven to overcome challenges, not only to each other but to our customers as well.
Derrick: We actually talked about that quite a bit within the last month. We were laughing because both of our parents used to say, “Pick your head up. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” This year has shown us to keep our head up and push through the obstacles and hurdles that came our way.
Do you have any entrepreneurial advice for those looking to start their own business?
Derrick: I’ll give a two-part answer for that. The first one is that starting your own business is a lot of work. A lot of people have an idea and say, “I’m going to start my own business, and I’m going to ride off into the sunset.” That’s not going to happen. You’re going to have to put in way more work than you would at your normal nine-to-five corporate position. We’ve been working nonstop 48-hour days every other day. But it’s worth it. The reward that we have experienced is so beneficial. It outweighs the hard work we’ve been putting in.
The other thing that I’ll say is this: When I was young, I used to say, I wish I won the lottery. Well, your dream is your lottery ticket. So put some effort behind your dream, and you’ll be able to cash that lottery ticket in. Keep those two things in mind. If you do have inspiration to start your own business, go for it. Put in the hard work. Eventually your ticket will be called.
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