If you enjoy sipping your morning coffee at Red Bay Coffee, or love digging through clothes racks at Owl N Wood, then you will be happy to hear about the new addition to the family. Jessica Moncada-Konte, a Bay Area queer woman of color and the daughter of Red Bay’s owner, Keba Konte, is following in her family's footsteps and launching a Kickstarter campaign to open her first business. ‘Proof - Oakland Bottle Shop’ will open its door at 45 Grand Avenue in Oakland where Moncada-Konte’s stepmother’s shop, Owl N Wood (which relocated to Old Oakland) once resided.
Moncada-Konte’s family has been in the Bay Area for a couple of generations. Moncada-Konte herself was born in San Francisco and went to school in West Oakland. Her father was an artist at the time and in 1994, when San Francisco got too expensive, they moved to a house in Berkeley.
“Our house in Berkeley was a meeting space or community space. That’s the house where folks would meet at,” Moncada-Konte recalls.
She says her parents have always been community-oriented and built numerous relationships with local artists. Her father, for instance, photographed album covers for local rappers like E-40, Master P, and MC Hammer. Like father, like daughter, Moncada-Konte also has connections to the Oakland artists scene. The architect for her shop happens to be Tajai Massey from the local hip-hop collective Hieroglyphics.
Moncada-Konte grew up in a family of entrepreneurs where independence, hard work, and leadership were keys to success. These are qualities Moncada-Konte has always admired.
“I always saw my parents working for themselves,” she says. “That’s why I wanted to own or operate something on my own. I was waiting to see what really grabbed my attention and when I started working in the food industry, that was it for me.”
And working in the food industry, she did. She’s been a busser, a hostess, a waiter, and an assistant cook at restaurants like Chez Panisse and Camino. But bartending is really what spoke to her.
“Booze really speaks to me, to be honest,” she says, cracking a big smile. ‘When I was a kid, one of my favorite games was mixing potions. My family always thought I was going to become a cook.’
And that’s where Proof comes in.
“Opening a business involves a lot of soul searching,” Moncada-Konte points out. “I felt like it was my responsibility to be a part of what I saw Oakland needed, which is small-business ownership and black-business ownership.”
While Moncada-Konte did not want to open another bar, she had her doubt about whether Oakland needed another liquor store. But “Proof” is different.
“When you open a store, there are things that you say you will do and won’t do,” she explains. “For example, are you going to sell less than a pint? Are you going to sell candies? What are your hours of operations?”
Moncada-Konte says Proof is committed to selling high-quality products but is also adamant about being able to serve as many customers as possible. That’s why the prices will range from $10 to $300. She also says that the store won’t be open in the evening, unlike most liquor stores.
Another point Moncada-Konte made was that the history of spirits, like rum or whiskey, is engrained in the history of African-Americans in the United States. She wants to share that knowledge with her clientele and empower shoppers. One of her goals is to educate people about the curation, the history, and the work behind each bottle she sells.
“I want Proof to be approachable and not intimidating,” she says while pointing out that other high-end places can often look uninviting. “I want to be able to recognize the folks who walk in.” In a way, Moncada-Konte hopes to build friendly, family-like relationships with her customers. It’s her way to pay homage to the liquor stores she went to when she was a kid, where everyone knew each other.
This is one of the reasons why she will also have community events like a bitters-making workshop on Sunday, March 19 from 11am until 3pm. She will be serving Red Bay coffee on the house.
“It will be a super casual event,” she says. “I want folks to pop in and out, and learn to make bitters. It’s a last hoorah for wrapping up the campaign.”
One aspect of her business Moncada-Konte is excited about is to sell products that she has researched herself. She plans to prioritize selling goods from local distilleries and shops with better environmental practices and who are known to treat their employees fairly.
Proof won’t only feature high-quality spirits; the shop will also sell new and vintage barware, as well as bitters and tinctures.
‘Bartending is a beautiful craft,’ Moncada-Konte says as she shows me photos of some of the cocktails she’s made.
She will even carry luxury kitchen items and hand-made goodies, like these ceramic Tiki mugs by Chris Shima of Port Costa.
When it comes to the business side of things, Moncada-Konte is prepared to face challenges. As a young queer black woman, she knows how hard it is to get lenders to trust new entrepreneurs like her.
‘Many of us aren’t going to own houses,’ she says. ‘We have to go against those traditional institutions and gain capital for our businesses in other ways.’
That’s why she is using Kickstarter to raise a third of her startup cost. Moncada-Konte believes that it is demonstrative of how her generation is capable of raising capital. Indeed, her father also crowdsourced the money he needed to open Red Bay Coffee.
So far, she’s raised $14,790 out of her $45,000 goal. With only two weeks left, Moncada-Konte hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps and conduct a successful campaign.