As David Cabello tells it, the day after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, he and his twin brother Aaron dropped out of college to dedicate themselves to supporting Black-owned businesses however they could.
Except there was one problem: They were a pair of broke, 21-year-old business school dropouts.
“Someone told me you could deliver food on a bike and get paid for it,” David, now 25, recalled. “I said, ‘You’re lying.’”
The Pennsylvania natives began delivering for the third-party delivery app PostMates in Philadelphia and then added Uber Eats and Caviar.
In one 30-hour week, David said, he made $1,100.
“At that point I said if I can make this much money delivering food on a bicycle, how much can I make if I actually own the company?” he recalled.
He began researching the market and found that there were no major Black-owned food delivery apps. So he decided to start his own, one that would not only be Black-owned, but that would exclusively support Black-owned food businesses.
“It’s really important because you have to know where our businesses are,” he said. “It sounds simple, but it’s not for a lot of people. When I started I didn’t even know these restaurants existed in my own city. That alone shows the need for a service or a directive to find Black businesses. Of course there are directories to help you find them, but we’ll bring them right to your door.”
After months of careful planning and research, the Cabello twins launched Black and Mobile in Philadelphia in February 2019, during Black History Month.
The app grew slowly in its first year, netting just a few thousand dollars in its first five months. Then David was hit by a car and took the downtime to regroup. He hired a Black-owned tech company to build a new app, launched a Kickstarter that garnered some media attention and saw the orders begin to roll in that fall.
In its first year, Black and Mobile grossed $25,000 in sales — not enough for the twins to stop delivering for other apps to pay the bills, but a start nonetheless.
The momentum continued into the first few months of 2020 as the Cabellos expanded their service to Detroit just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The twins chose Detroit as the first city to expand to, David said, because of a distant relation to Elijah Muhammad, a pioneering leader of the Nation of Islam during its infancy in the Motor City. Also, because of it being a smaller city with an overwhelmingly Black majority population, Detroit just made sense.
“I had someone who was helping me in the beginning,” David said. “He knew Detroit and was from Detroit. But things didn’t turn out too well. I had to fire everyone and start over.”
Meanwhile, twin crises were actually helping the business: The COVID-19 pandemic was fueling a surge in restaurant deliveries while a racial reckoning over the police killings of unarmed Black people spurred renewed interest in supporting the Black businesses.
Black and Mobile has already cracked half a million dollars in sales in 2020, and David points to the twin crises as unfortunate drivers of that growth.
“I don’t want a Black man to have to get killed for people to support Black businesses,” he said.
After a summer hiatus, the service relaunched in Detroit in September. Unfortunately, some of the restaurants that had signed up previously had closed, and Black and Mobile is slowly building its roster back up.
Now, the service offers delivery for about a dozen Black-owned Detroit restaurants and the Cabellos were in town recently to sign up more.
“We’re building back up,” David said.
The intention with Black and Mobile, he said, is to support Black businesses and circulate the dollar within the Black community, from the restaurants whose food is delivered to the tech company that designed the app to many of the gig workers who drive for it.
“It doesn’t matter what color you are,” David said. “If you want to support Black businesses and get some food, that’s all that matters. We don’t promote anything about hating anyone or not hiring anyone. We don’t ask what color you are when you apply for a job with us. If you want to support Black businesses and Black people, this is a simple way to do it.”
And though the app works very much like one designed and run by a Silicon Valley firm, David said Black & Mobile isn’t out to compete with them.
“We have a different niche,” he said. “At the end of the day we care about Black business and taking care of Black people. And for them it’s about the dollar. What comes first for us is making sure our people can thrive.”