This Man Opened A Grocery Store In A “Food Desert”

Brandon Cosby isn’t interested in what is — he only sees what should and can be. He is the Executive Director of Flanner House in Indianapolis, an organization originally designed by Booker T. Washington to lift Blacks in Indianapolis from slum conditions. Flanner House has a variety of programs that support families in the area but also runs the largest urban farm in the city. After the last grocer in the community folded, residents began organizing for a new one. When they asked for healthy foods and fresh produce in a community meeting they were told, “beggars can’t be choosers.” Cosby immediately threw the man out of the meeting and declared that they’d build the store themselves. It just opened last month.

Cosby has a track record of doing the impossible. Once upon a time he was tapped to resurrect the worst and most violent high school in Indianapolis. In 180 school days, the students there were engaged in 256 fights. After Cosby took over, with 70% of the original students still in place, they had just 5 fights in 4 years. That school became the only in the district with a waitlist to get in and the Indiana Bar Association recognized Cosby as Educator of the Year. When he took over Flanner House the organization was in shambles and $500,000 in debt. It was so bad that he asked the Board if he could start the very day he was hired — he thought it would only get worse if he left the office that afternoon. He did start that day and hasn’t looked back.

“You just sold basil for more than you can sell weed”

Cleo’s Bodega Grocery and Cafe sits in the Riverside neighborhood area of Indianapolis. The cafe offers complimentary wifi to customers, an assortment of drinks and snacks. Before it opened, there was no place locals could actually sit down to eat or work in the entire neighborhood. The Bodega is a grocery with a small square footage but high density of products. The store carries all locally sourced produce, about half of which is grown on the Flanner House Farm. The farm is used to teach at-risk youngsters urban farming and how to negotiate contracts with local grocers and other destinations where the produce is sold. After seeing Mr. Cosby negotiate a sale of basil to a store, one teen was amazed that the price was better than that of weed, without the risk of jail time.

Cosby had to raise over $1 million to open the store. Not an easy task. Even with funding, however, he delayed the buildout an entire year to make sure it was right. Flanner House partnered with a Black owned development company to do the buildout when the time came. He said the he wanted it to be of such high quality that people from more affluent neighborhoods would walk in and ask, “Why don’t we have this in our neighborhood?” Still, the most expensive item currently sold there is $6. People from the community also have the option of leaving a little behind when they shop, just so those in need can also be serviced with dignity, even if they happen to be low on funds.

We can do the impossible and supply our own needs. But we have to, according to Cosby, stop measuring our progress and success by what we see in other neighborhoods. What works in some communities may not work in ours, today. Cosby believes we should, instead, focus on the things we need and want, then figure out how to marry those things. Cleo’s Bodega Grocery and Cafe is an example of just that.

31 comments
  1. Valeene Bedford
    Valeene Bedford
    July 30, 2019 at 4:50 am

    Thank you for publicizing the phenomenal impact of initiative and self-sufficiency as modeled and taught by Mr. Cosby. We can always use our greatest resources – ourselves – and marshall community power to develop additional resources to THRIVE. The grocery store is one such RESOURCE. It provides not only a convenient, affordable place to shop for daily necessities, but supports Black business, less fortunate neighbors, provides healthier, fresh produce, and functions as a school for teaching farming and economics.

    Kudos to the author and to WeBuyBlack for showing that WAKONDA is real: it is revealed as we peer through the window of lives such as Mr. Cosby’s and others who achieve incredible things when they devote themselves to the greater good.

    Reply
  2. Christian Criss
    Christian Criss
    July 30, 2019 at 4:53 am

    Good job Brandon

    Reply
  3. Gregory Cole
    Gregory Cole
    July 31, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    Inspiring! Thank you so much.

    Reply
  4. Cheryl
    Cheryl
    July 31, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    I recently had this very conversation with friends and family about an area in Cleveland, OH., wherein a one-mile strip there are 30 churches and no grocery store. It’s an absolute outrage.
    This type of forward-thinking belongs in every city with underserved communities.

    Reply
  5. Sylvia S
    Sylvia S
    July 31, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    Congratulations Mr. Cosby on a Job Well Done

    Reply
  6. Pamela Randolph
    Pamela Randolph
    July 31, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    Awesome article and a true testament as to what can be achieved when our hearts and minds are about uplifting and supporting our people…thank you Mr. Crosby!

    Reply
  7. Ade Bc
    Ade Bc
    July 31, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    My good anyone can do good for their community if you have the good will and intention + a lot of motivation , Yes we can
    Thanks Mr Brandon Cosby we need one of you in each neighbourhood of ours to make it work

    Reply
  8. Malik Saleem
    Malik Saleem
    July 31, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    Very good job, where is the store located

    Reply
    • Lenise Devers
      Lenise Devers
      August 1, 2019 at 2:47 am

      Thank you Mr. Cosby. Thank you to the person who submitted this inspirational story.

      Reply
    • Brandon Cosby
      Brandon Cosby
      August 1, 2019 at 3:54 pm

      The store is located at 2432 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, Indianapolis, IN

      Reply
  9. Ade Bc
    Ade Bc
    July 31, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    My goodness anyone can do good for their community if you have the good will and intention + a lot of motivation , Yes we can
    Thanks Mr Brandon Cosby we need one of you in each neighbourhood of ours to make it work

    Reply
  10. Le Verne Holmes
    Le Verne Holmes
    July 31, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    This is what we need to show that we can come together and help our neighbor hoods.

    Thanks
    Le Verne Holmes

    Reply
  11. Shakerrah
    Shakerrah
    July 31, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    I love to see our people push forward, never accepting no as the final say. Its great to see youngsters apply themselves to doing better!!!

    Reply
  12. G. Couch
    G. Couch
    July 31, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    That’s an awesome ccomplishment. Great job brother.

    Reply
  13. Mz Jeri
    Mz Jeri
    July 31, 2019 at 4:09 pm

    God will bless your efforts ten fold.. Keep up the progress.. I live in upstate NY, pls inbox me where to send a small donation.. I will keep your business n my prayers.. God Bless

    MJ

    Reply
  14. Whatsinaname
    Whatsinaname
    July 31, 2019 at 4:32 pm

    Fantastic. Let’s see this replicated all over the country and elsewhere.

    Reply
  15. Abdul Rahman Shareef
    Abdul Rahman Shareef
    July 31, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    Goodness is on the rise and the movement of dust to industry is becoming a dynamic reality!!!
    You are a bright star in the galaxy of our community!!

    Reply
  16. Patrice
    Patrice
    July 31, 2019 at 4:50 pm

    Amazing man. Beautiful story. Just shared it.

    Reply
  17. Esmerelda
    Esmerelda
    July 31, 2019 at 5:44 pm

    Congratulations ! Well done. May i also suggest community gardens. In our famous FILLMORE district in San Francisco, the people were able to take over vacant lots
    and people in the community could apply for plots . These organic gardens replenished the soil (which first must be tested for any chemicals) and fed whole neighborhoods and brought the community close.
    Canning came back. Just an idea! Keep up the wonderful inspired work.

    Reply
  18. Ru
    Ru
    July 31, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    What a great man, we need more people that genuinely care about the community like Mr. Cosby has shown.

    Reply
  19. Dee
    Dee
    July 31, 2019 at 6:13 pm

    Good day Brandon,
    I first want to applaud you for your efforts and commitment to seeing the potential in self-reliance and actualization within our community. If possible I would like to discuss the potential of duplicating this success in the South Florida area (black communities) .
    [email protected]

    Reply
    • Nubia
      Nubia
      August 2, 2019 at 7:54 pm

      @ Dee… We live in the Central Florida region and I too would love to see Mr. Cosby’s model replicated. My husband and I often have in depth conversations about what our communities need and how we can be proactive in assisting. This truly is fantastic!

      Reply
  20. Carolyn
    Carolyn
    July 31, 2019 at 7:42 pm

    We can do this by working together…..

    Reply
  21. ashiki taylor
    ashiki taylor
    July 31, 2019 at 10:54 pm

    Awesome!

    Do you know if his next move is to sell BAM! Black American Made Products?

    #OurProductsToo

    Reply
  22. Lovelyyahudee
    Lovelyyahudee
    July 31, 2019 at 11:27 pm

    Thank you for the update we need more people that will continue to promote black entrepreneurship. Congratulations Mr. Cosby on your accomplishment…. 🙋🏿‍♀️🙋🏿‍♀️🙋🏿‍♀️💯💯

    Reply
  23. P
    P
    August 1, 2019 at 9:34 pm

    This Is How you Give Back To OUR community.

    Reply
  24. Harper
    Harper
    August 2, 2019 at 6:58 pm

    Omg, what a brilliant mind and done with excellence at that!! I love it and Im inspired! Thank you for sending me this…

    Reply
  25. Curtis
    Curtis
    August 3, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    I love it how can i start a small store on louisiana, 70094 thanks.CURTIS

    Reply
  26. Miguel Thornton
    Miguel Thornton
    August 6, 2019 at 4:57 pm

    Platforms Such As We Buy Black are Continuing to Show & Prove that Stories Like This Are Real, & Current & Impactful. Our People Must Do Everything Possible To Ensure The Preservation of Our People.

    Reply
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