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Charleston Business

Honoring Our Black Entrepreneurs: The Cocktail Bandits

Feb 01, 2024 10:20AM ● By Amy Bonesteel Smith

In 2022, more than 20 percent of South Carolina businesses were owned by people from racial minorities, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Of those businesses, more than 72,000 were owned by Black entrepreneurs.

A 2023 study conducted by Lendio, a company that specializes in loans to small businesses, used data from the Census Bureau and the U.S. Small Business Administration to rank each state’s support of minority-owned businesses.

The study ranked South Carolina 14th in the nation, citing a 147-percent job growth at minority-owned businesses.

Every entrepreneur faces challenges in getting a business off the ground and keeping it on a growth trajectory through the ups and downs of the economy and the upheaval of the Covid-19 pandemic. And many minority business owners face additional hurdles ranging from discrimination to a lack of mentorship opportunities, according to Lendio.

Meet some Black entrepreneurs around South Carolina who are navigating the challenges and putting their own stamp on the business world.

Johnny Caldwell and Taneka Reaves

The Cocktail Bandits


Mixing parts of determination, enthusiasm, and expertise in the same way they shake up custom cocktails has brought Johnny Caldwell and Taneka Reaves success as Charleston’s Cocktail Bandits.

The team, who met as freshmen at the College of Charleston, admit “starting completely from scratch” was not without its challenges. “We created Cocktail Bandits to address a need, which was the lack of representation of women of color in the beverage industry,” says Caldwell.  “There was no rubric or guidelines for us to follow.”

Soon they were blogging about hospitality and hosting pop-up events around the city, even publishing a cocktail book (the first in the country by two African American women) called “Holy Spirits: Charleston Culture Through Cocktails” (Evening Post Books, 2018).  

But like many others they were forced to pivot during pandemic lockdowns, finding out that they were able to mix drinks via video, host virtual parties, and even send kits to customers. Their social media presence grew – their Instagram account has 34.4K followers – and they continued to grow their business. 

Their lively events are known for party- and user-friendly techniques and beverages, including their “signature” drink and first commissioned cocktail recipe, Peninsula Tea. “It’s made with Firefly Sweet Tea and is garnished with the iconic sweetgrass rose that has come to be analogous with Charleston,” they note. 

Their 10 years of hard work has paid off, with their brand now internationally recognized. Attributing their success to dedication, perseverance, confidence, and community, the team has hosted sold-out events at the Charleston Food & Wine Festival, Atlanta Food & Wine Festival and has appeared at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans for mixology sessions and panel discussions.