This is how Kalkidan Gebreyohannes and J’Maica Thomas, the owners of Blk Girls Green House in West Oakland, announced that they’d been chosen as contestants on the Revolt TV competition reality show Bet on Black. The Puff Daddy-owned network’s show—think Shark Tank, but by Black entrepreneurs, for Black entrepreneurs—premiered Jan. 10 and pits 25 Black business owners against each other for the chance to win the $200,000 grand prize.
Despite their reservations about typical reality show editing, with statements routinely stripped of context in order to amplify drama, Gebreyohannes and Thomas found the opportunity too promising to pass up. It meant the chance to network with other Black entrepreneurs (including T-Pain, who judges in later rounds), earn $200,000, and expose their brand to a wider audience; all net positives for a business that only opened about a year and a half ago in August 2020.
“The reality is the opportunity was really great, you know, for a small business that opened and launched during the pandemic, that self-started with only our capital with no investment or funding to start the business. …like, let's at least try it,” Gebreyohannes tells KQED.
Through a mutual friend, the business partners were introduced to the show’s casting director, who encouraged them to audition. To start, Gebreyohannes and Thomas had to record themselves giving a one-minute elevator pitch about Blk Girls Green House, something they had never done before.
“The buzzer kind of went off and I hadn't even gotten to say my part,” Gebreyohannes recalls. “So we actually didn't even think we were gonna be on the show, because we were like, ‘That was the worst, we didn't get out a lot of the points that wanted to get out.’”
Despite their shaky start, the pair was invited to Atlanta for the next audition stage. Only Thomas could make the trip, which is why she appears alone pitching their business to the judges on the first episode of the show—a less than ideal situation, considering Thomas describes Gebreyohannes as “the people person.”
Thomas says she rehearsed her pitch repeatedly, both over the phone with Gebreyohannes and in her head before she faced the judges. Recalling it now, all she could think was, “‘Please don’t mess this up.’”
You wouldn’t know it from watching her on the show. In a majority black ensemble accentuated by knee-high snakeskin boots and a sweater with scales running down one sleeve that screamed Black Queen of Dragons, Thomas projected confidence and personality. The judges also took to her plan for how to use the show’s prize money: to expand BGGH—currently a plant and specialty home goods shop that doubles as a community event space—to include a design and installation service complete with delivery trucks, and to grow their all-Black female staff to include more senior positions.
The two advanced to the next round, along with 11 other finalists.
As Thomas and Gebreyohannes’ journey on the show continues to unfold on-air, they hope to represent Oakland well—most of the other contestants are based in the Atlanta area. Putting on for their city is especially important to the duo since they feel the seeds they’ve planted in the Bay Area have facilitated their business’s rapid growth.
“I think the community support and the way people have rallied around us and just really shown up for us in so many ways…has been a huge contributing factor in why we've been able to get to the level that we're at,” Thomas said.
“I think it is the nature of Oakland,” Gebreyohannes added. “Oakland rides hard for Oakland.”
And though they’ve gotten a great reception back home over their appearance on Bet on Black thus far, Thomas and Gebreyohannes’ aspirations don’t end with The Town. The pair have their eyes set on opening Blk Girls Green Houses in other cities, too.
“I think we both really would just love to expand our reach and let people know outside of Oakland who we are and what we’re doing,” says Thomas, “and letting other people know that retail doesn’t have to look a certain way, that business ownership doesn’t have to look a certain way, that it doesn’t have to happen at a certain time or at a certain age.”
Though their business has sprouted quickly, Gebreyohannes adds that outsiders looking in should make no mistake about it: the duo’s success has come from their entrepreneurial experience, acumen and a lot of hard work behind the scenes.
“I want to openly say, I think for the first time, we’re very deserving of it,” Gebreyohannes said. “It’s not luck.”