Karl Franz Williams is revitalizing cocktail culture in Harlem

Harlem’s transformation may have initially felt like it was happening at a gradual pace. Now, it might as well be lightning speed.

Karl Franz Williams has been a part of that change for more than 10 years.

Fusing his background in cocktail creation with his love for the Caribbean and his entrepreneurial spirit, it just made sense for him to focus on his first love: a good cocktail. That’s when Solomon and Kuff Rum Hall came to fruition.

Williams began his mixology career in his parents’ kitchen, watching his father create unique non-alcoholic drinks made from herbal teas, juices and ginger or lemon/lime soda. Quickly developing a palate and an idea for what flavors worked well together, he was soon making his own drinks.

The restaurant’s name even has a rum connection, referring to the saga of Venture Smith, an American slave who was sold for four gallons of rum but who later bought his way to freedom. Mr. Smith’s two sons were named Solomon and Cuff, though Williams took liberties and changed it to “Kuff.”

Get to know more about Solomon and Kuff from Karl Franz Williams below:

What year were you founded?

I opened my first restaurant, Society Coffee, in June of 2005. Since then, I’ve opened three more places — 67 Orange Street (December 2008), Solomon and Kuff (December 2015), and the Anchor Spa (June 2016).

What inspired you to launch your business?

I have always felt the drive to be an entrepreneur. Along the way, I discovered a passion for entertaining and hosting, for community, for craft drinks and food, and for marketing. These passions come together in my places.

What makes your brand/product unique?

I always strive for uniqueness and differentiation. I want to create spaces that have special meaning to all of our guests. But the other factor that makes all of my places unique is our historical point of view. I believe the stories of our past are filled with inspiring anecdotes for today. Each place has a name with historical meaning. 67 Orange Street is the last known address of Almack’s Dance Hall, one of the first black-owned bars in NYC and the place where tap dance was created. Solomon and Kuff were the sons of Venture Smith, a native-born African who was sold into slavery for four gallons of rum. He ultimately bought his freedom and that of his family and eventually bought land and died relatively wealthy. The Anchor Spa is the original name of the bar and restaurant that has been in its same location since 1939. It was a hub for actors, philosophers and thought leaders.

Why should everyone #buyblack or #supportblack this holiday season?

Supporting black business is crucial to building our overall community and its power and influence. Many of the ills that affect our communities find their roots in poverty and lack of opportunities. Black businesses create employment opportunities and increase the wealth of our neighborhoods.

How do you pay it forward within your community?

I am particularly concerned with mass incarceration and its impact on black people. Therefore, I have made it a requirement that all of my businesses are open to hiring formerly incarcerated individuals. It’s the best way to prevent recidivism and cycles of poverty and crime.

What is your business mantra?

‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’

Kimberly Wilson is a writer and social media director at theGrio. Follow her on Twitter.