Alum Keba Konte's Red Bay Coffee Brings Diversity to Bay Area Java Scene

Friday, February 21, 2020
Photo of Keba Konte holding a cup of coffee and wearing an Oakland sweater

FORBES -- It was almost an accident that Keba Konte got into coffee, but the industry is better for it. Before he learned to roast, the San Francisco Bay-native was a documentary photographer, first covering the ’90s hip-hop scene and then activist movements around the Bay.

Today, Konte runs several cafés as well as a roastery: Red Bay Coffee in Oakland. The innovative roaster brings black-owned business to a traditionally white industry; additionally, 65 percent of the company’s managers and leaders are women.

“I became an athlete and went to San Francisco State, where I was on the wrestling team. I also became a teenage father. I started picking up photography and studied photojournalism,” Konte says. “In 1994, I went to South Africa and photographed the first all-race election, which is when Nelson Mandela was elected. That was an incredible experience on so many levels, just learning about the culture and the music. Then, right in that cluster of the early ’90s, I was in Cuba photographing Fidel [Castro]. I photographed Nelson Mandela. I was in Japan and Senegal. That was a formative time for me, just studying photographers and portrait photography. ...

“The early ’90s was a hotbed of activism on the campus of San Francisco State. There was anti-apartheid movement. There was the uprising around the beating of Rodney King. There was the Iraq War. Certainly, there was no shortage of causes that we were out in the streets organizing and protesting.”