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Hidden Gems: Meet Kevin Larkai of Blackleaf Organic

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kevin Larkai.

Hi Kevin, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today.
My name is Kevin Larkai and I was born in Nigeria to Ghanaian parents but currently reside in Washington DC. I’m the Founder and CEO of Blackleaf Organic Vodka and I have a background in Finance. I’ve always been passionate about creating memorable consumer products and shaping the brands of the future. Blackleaf was born of a chance meeting in France while I was on vacation. I was exploring the town of Cognac when I randomly bumped into what seemed to be the only other black person in the entire region. We connected immediately and later found out he was a professional soccer player in England and was married to a woman from Cognac. The whole town had been following his career and he was a local celebrity. He seemed to know everyone and introduced us to Bertrand Laclie, the owner of Maison Rene Laclie, a fifth-generation Cognac house. I was immediately intrigued by Bertrand’s passion for his craft, which matched my enthusiasm for creating the leading consumer brands of the future. We formed a bond and decided to create a vodka unlike any other on the market.

In order to elevate the brand and take it to the next level, it was important to build the right team. Enter Monté Burrow, an industry veteran and Baltimore native who I partnered with to usher in a new era of growth. This partnership is built on a shared passion for creating the leading brands of the future and leaving a legacy for generations to come. Monté was born and raised in Baltimore, attending Morgan State University for his undergrad and John Hopkins for his MBA. He’s a seasoned leader with nearly 2 decades of alcohol industry experience the majority of that being with Diageo; the biggest alcohol supplier in the world. As we grow our presence in Baltimore, we love the inspiration it will provide to the youth locally as an example of what they can accomplish with hard work.

We all face challenges, but would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Having no industry background resulted in many lessons learned but through persistence and determination, I developed the brand into what it is now and positioned it for future success. The initial challenge was learning what it takes to launch and run a brand. In this industry, you typically have distributors that sell to liquor stores, bars, and restaurants but when I reached out to several of them, they all rejected us. The only other option was to self-distribute. I reluctantly stepped out of my comfort zone and started selling our vodka from the “trunk”. This was a blessing in disguise as it taught me a lot about what it takes to sell and what buyers care about. That lead to some success and now distributors are reaching out to us. The lesson here is that persistence and determination make all the difference. Keep pushing and you’ll learn everything you need to be successful.

We’re now faced with additional challenges as we scale. We have proven we have a brand that is superior to a lot of vodkas currently on the market. We now have to raise capital to make it the successful national brand that it will be.

That has been challenging as well with difficulties around access to capital but again through determination, we’re making progress. Every obstacle we encounter is an opportunity to get better and sharpen our abilities.

We’ve been impressed with Blackleaf Organic, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Blackleaf Organic is a company focused on sustainability, style, and celebration of the human spirit. We are a product development and management company creating eco-conscious products that seek to disrupt the status quo.

Our first product is Blackleaf Organic Vodka, the FIRST French Organic Vodka on the market. It’s distilled 5 times in copper pots from the house of Maison René Laclie in Cognac France and is gluten-free. With a focus on sustainability, we use the finest organic winter wheat to produce a silky-smooth product. The same care and attention to detail are taken on the bottle itself, where we use organic ink and produce a bottle using less glass.

Blackleaf Organic Vodka makes Organic Sexy and it is truly a labor of love. This is a legacy in progress, and there’s much more to come.

What sort of changes are you expecting over the next 5-10 years?
Vodka is the number one selling spirit and is likely to remain one of the top-selling spirits for decades to come. What’s interesting and gets us excited, is consumers are adopting healthier lifestyles and looking for products that are better for them and the environment.

Organic vodka specifically is supposed to drive growth in the vodka space over the next 5-10 years. Consumers are also demanding high-quality black-owned brands, inspirational stories, and authenticity. We know we’re well-positioned to deliver on all of those demands and it brings us much joy to see how well-received the brand is.

Pricing:

  • An average of $24.99 in liquor stores. You can find the list of stores on our website.
  • You can also purchase it for $29.99 on our website

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Hawkeye Johnson, Abhishek Dekate, Ricardo Robinson, and John Stephens

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