When it comes to building a brand in the world of nightlife, you can’t be just a one-hit wonder. That’s why the existence of “Grits & Biscuits” for nearly a decade, is both an accomplishment and a testament to the skill of young Black entrepreneurs. Known as a “southern party experience,” Grits & Biscuits started in 2010 as a party celebrating everything that was missing on the NYC scene.
High priced alcohol bottles and snobby VIP sections, ensured that only certain populations were catered to with hospitality. So founders Maurice Slade, Erika Lewis and Alzo Slade (the Slades are brothers), hosted a southern-themed party in hopes of bringing that down home feel up north, reminiscent to their HBCU experience. Maurice Slade attended Florida A&M University, Erika Lewis attended North Carolina A&T University and Alzo Slade attended Praire View A&M University in Texas.
The party was a smash hit and soon spread to cities across the U.S., including Chicago, D.C., Los Angeles, Houston, and Atlanta, just to name a few. The brand has also expanded into hosting block parties, with A-list southern hip hop talent hitting the stage such as T.I, Jeezy, Bun B, Juvenile, Ying Yang Twins.
This past weekend, more than 3,000 people turned out in NYC for the 5th annual block party and enjoyed performances from Rick Ross, OT Genasis, Casanova 2x and Pardison Fontaine. theGrio caught up with the founders to discuss the GRITS & BISCUIT experience and their journey as entrepreneurs.
theGrio: Grits & Biscuits, the brand that has managed to stick around for nearly 10 years. How do you build something that lasts for so long?
Alzo Slade: It should be noted that when we started it, we couldn’t forecast what was coming. We just started. We created a party that we wanted to go to and come to find out a lot of other people wanted to go to it. And then people come to New York and they don’t live here and then they go back to their respective cities and they say ‘Oh you guys should bring this to Chicago, you should bring it to L.A. You should bring it, you know, to Indianapolis and so we just listen to the people and try to provide what they want .
TG: What would you say is distinctive about the brand? For somebody who’s just coming across Grits & Biscuits, which is kind of impossible at this point but what would you say?
Maurice Slade: There’s no line, there’s no VIP. There is no B.S. It’s just come as you are, turn up and have a good time. And especially when we first started throwing the party, that didn’t exist in New York. It was literally like when I would try to go out it was like either you had to buy bottles or you had to have money or you had to bring ten girls. When I first moved to New York, I didn’t have either. I had no money. No girls. To help you. I mean I think it’s the perfect party for people who just want to come in and have fun and just no B.S.
TG: When did you realize this is a viable business?
Erika Lewis: I think the very first party we went into it with no plans. We just wanted to have something that was gonna be a good time for us and a party that we would want to go to. To Maurice’s point, that we didn’t see, that was reminiscent of our days back at HBCUs and we just were hoping to break even.
And 500 people– majority we didn’t know–showed up and asked us when is the next party? And we didn’t have a Facebook page or website or email address or anything but we were, it was very clear at the end of that night that this is something that we need to continue to work on and cultivate.
Alzo Slade: And it should be noted that the first people that showed up to our first party were folks from our church Bible study group. So the Lord was in this endeavor from the beginning.
TG: There’s this urban legend that one night Beyonce and Jay-Z showed up at your party. Can you confirm if this is true or not? And what was your reaction?
Erika Lewis and Alzo Slade: That was years ago.
Erika Lewis: They were already in the building, already set up. So the first reaction was, I was standing at the front door so I was like ‘No, they didn’t come walk past me.’
Maurice Slade: I remember. I kept hearing the chatter like Beyonce and Jay are here. I was like oh, okay. whatever. People be would be like ‘The Dream came or like these people’ and I never saw them so I never believed them. I was like whatever. They was like ‘Nah Jay and Beyonce are here for real.’ I was like ‘Aight cool.’ They was like ‘No, look up. That’s Beyonce right there.’ She’s over the banister, having a good time like everybody else. And I was like woah. That’s crazy.
Alzo Slade: My reaction was they still owe us cover. I was like all these other people paid to get in here. Why shouldn’t you pay? Nah, we were grateful that they showed up because they didn’t show up as celebrities. They showed up because they just wanted to party and have a good time and we hope that’s what they got.
TG: Black entrepreneurs often have it harder when it comes to getting investment capital and all of these different things. What are some of the challenges that you face as entrepreneurs and what advice would you give to somebody who’s trying to create something for themselves, whether it’s a brand or something completely different.
Erika Lewis: We sat down after that first meeting and we clearly wrote out what our values were going to be. And we clearly wrote out what the brand was never going to be. There was no individual that would be bigger than the brand. It would always be about the brand. And we wrote out that it was never gonna be—we’re never gonna be driven by the money. It was always going to be about the crowd and the fans and what do they want.
I also think we started with a very low budget. It didn’t cost us a lot going into our first party. And we were very, we had a lot of cool ideas. The church fans were there from day one because we thought it’d be cool to have church fans and we all agreed OK. How much does it cost? We’ll split it three ways and we’ll pay for it. That’s just not how we operated. And that has worked in our favor.
Alzo Slade: Well Business 101 is you fulfill a need or solve a problem, right. So you find a problem that needs to be solved or a need that needs to be fulfilled and be confident but also be humble and I think understand why you’re doing it because we understood why we were doing. It was something that we were passionate about. We’re from the South, HBCUs, this doesn’t exist so let’s figure it out. And to Erika’s point, whether you trying to make popsicles or you trying to sell clothes or T-shirts, you have to listen to your consumer.
Check out our full video interview with the founders of GRITS & BISCUITS above, and get more highlights from the 2019 Grits & Biscuits Block Party in NY