Hennessy Event at Smoothie King Center Celebrates Black Entrepreneurs
NEW ORLEANS — Luxury cognac brand Hennessy partnered with the New Orleans Pelicans to host an on-court dinner for Black entrepreneurs and influencers on Feb. 16 at the Smoothie King Center. The event was funded by the spirit maker’s Never Stop Never Settle Society, an initiative that was introduced in March 2021 to “support a more equitable landscape for inclusive business growth and development.”
Hennessy senior brand director Mwanza Lumumba said at the event that the company has a long history of supporting Black entrepreneurs.
“Back in 1896 — yes I said 1896 — the president of Hennessy, William Jay Schieffelin, was friends with Booker T. Washington and joined the board of directors at Tuskegee University,” he said. “So we aren’t just showing up, putting on a party and leaving town. We’re committed to supporting the next generation of leaders.”
The company pulled out all the stops to make the night feel special for the 30 or so young entrepreneurs who were invited to attend. New Orleans chef Byron Bradley, co-owner of the restaurants Del Sur and 2Brothers1Love, prepared a meal that was served on the arena’s center court. Actor Anthony Mackie and musician Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews were in attendance. A brass band provided live music and the Pelicans’ mascot and dance team made appearances. Lavish swag included customized New Orleans team jerseys. Artwork from New Orleans-based artist Brandan “Bmike” Odums adorned the walls.
Attendees said it felt like a lavish Hollywood affair.
“Riding the escalator up to the second floor while the band was playing felt like I was in a Grammy-award winning movie scene,” said Prince Lobo, co-owner of Addis NOLA, an Ethiopian Restaurant that opened in 2019. “You felt every note they hit and it filled you with emotions of greatness and motivation.”
There was also, of course, plenty of Hennessy. Cocktails were hand-crafted by Deniseea Taylor, a New Orleans-based “cocktail influencer” known as @chickenandchampagne on Instagram. Taylor was recently featured in Travel and Leisure magazine.
But the night wasn’t just about glamor for its own sake, said Cleveland Spears of the Spears Group, one of Hennessy’s local partners. The primary objective was networking and community building. And the guests took full advantage.
“I was so happy to connect with other amazing entrepreneurs,” said Morgan Dixon, owner of M.A.D. Nails, a salon in the CBD that has more than 37,000 Instagram followers and is soon moving to a new, larger location. “Being in a room surrounded by such phenomenal and groundbreaking Black excellence was such a breath of fresh air and something I’ll cherish forever.”
Alonzo and Jessica Knox, owners of Backatown Coffee Parlour, expressed similar sentiments.
“We had a great time networking with other entrepreneurs. It was very good for business,” said Alonzo Knox, whose boutique coffee shop is located at 301 Basin Street in the former Storyville District. “We were able to discuss future collaborations and partnerships with a number of entrepreneurs on ideas like new festivals, a dinner series, wellness events and arts showcases.”
The event comes at a time when Black-owned businesses have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
A study by McKinsey & Company found that wealth disparities and lower access to capital and credit made Black small business owners some of the most vulnerable to the economic circumstances of the last two years. A survey by H&R Block found that 53% of Black business owners saw their revenue drop by half since the start of the pandemic, compared to 37% of white owners.
As the virus continues to loosen its grip on the region, Black-owned businesses that weathered the storm are looking to thrive, and new business owners are eager to make their mark.
Last week’s Hennessy event is an example of one corporation’s efforts to support the cause.