A former NFL player for the Los Angeles Rams, Justin Watson is now an entrepreneur that is seeking to use coffee as a means to create much-needed change
By Jordan Green
In late January 2000, Justin Watson was a running back for the Los Angeles Rams who had just defeated the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. When he looked down at his hand that same night, his childhood dream was now a reality, as he found a Super Bowl ring on his finger.
Born in New York but growing up in Pasadena, Watson attended Marshall Fundamental High School and became the first player from the school’s football program to earn a DI scholarship when he committed to San Diego State. Signing as an undrafted free agent with Los Angeles, Watson enjoyed a four-year career with the Rams, the ’00 season proved to be his best, as he scored four touchdowns and averaged 4.6 yards per carry.
Yet for Watson, the game of football — even at the professional level — was not what he wanted his life to be remembered for. In his heart, he was an entrepreneur and motivator. When he stepped away from the game in 2004, he pursued his own fitness studio known as Studio Physique Athletic Club which remains a staple fitness space in the San Gabriel Valley.
“Getting into the NFL and winning a championship, accomplishing those things took a lot of hard work and dedication. And I quickly learned that it is important to have that same dedication and passion in building a brand,” said Watson. “For me, following the same script that led me to be successful on the field has made me successful off the field as well.”
However, much like several Americans last summer after the murder of George Floyd, Watson was disheartened by the racial injustice that continues to plague American culture and society. Suddenly, he felt a calling to explore business endeavors that stepped away from his lifestyle focus, and more on social change.
“Last year was just a wild year, and myself and everyone was witness to so much hurt,” Watson said. “I felt like it was my time to actually do something. To dive into these social justice issues and to provide for the communities around me.”
When considering a catalyst that can be used between consumers and the foundations that are capable of making a change, Watson immediately considered coffee. One of many passions for Watson, coffee became a daily component of his life during his days as a professional player — coaches referred him to it after he kept falling asleep during team meetings.
Through so many years of consuming it, Watson quickly began to notice the importance of quality. That exact word is the core of BLQK Coffee, which is Watson’s newest endeavor alongside business partner Ritchie Tuazon.
Receiving their 100% Arabica beans from black women-run fields throughout Africa, BLQK Coffee hopes to influence the women-owned farming community from coffee’s original homeland. Their beans — which only 1% of the world’s beans meet BLQK’s standards — are hand-roasted by Los Angeles-based artisans and presented to consumers.
“Coffee originated in Ethiopia. So it was important to us to source our product from its origins and give back to those farmlands and support those farmers and their wages,” Watson said. “It was just the perfect fit for us.”
Despite focusing on other missions outside of his normal focus, Watson’s commitment to health remains intact with BLQK’s product. Through its detailed craftsmanship, the coffee that is made is highlighted for its strong flavor profiles that don’t need any additional unhealthy alternatives, such as sugar and creamer, to enhance its taste.
“The way we make our product, it is made to be consumed without any additives. Just black,” said Watson. “There is intentionality behind that. It goes back to our goal of food justice. Taking away the stuff that’s bad for your system and can cause disease, but also making the product palatable. BLQK wants to influence a healthy lifestyle through that.”
Nevertheless, the key to BLQK Coffee is its commitment to giving back to the community. The heart of those efforts is a focus on social justice reform. However, they donate 25% of their profits to corporations that deal with issues related to other community-related concerns such as access to quality education, cultivating food justice and bridging the opportunity gap. BLQK often works with and donates earnings to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, a 501 nonprofit that intends to generate one-on-one mentorships for underprivileged children who seek guidance and support.
Perhaps professional football was the most exciting time of Watson’s life. But he has now learned that those four years, along with the years of competition from his youth, were not the most fulfilling. That peak of fulfillment is happening currently — and with that fulfillment comes enthusiasm.
Never before has Watson felt so thrilled with where his life is. Not only is BLQK Coffee providing him with a platform to present his creativity as a business-minded individual, but it is also allowing him to be a part of a cause that is far bigger than him. When all is said and done, that is ultimately his biggest accomplishment so far in life; even more than that championship ring.
“There’s just a massive gap in this country right now, and it’s led to a lot of hate. And to me, the only way to drive out hate is with love,” Watson said. “My goal is to take this brand and allow it to be a platform that is able to instill those proper values into the world. And so far in my life, that feat has become my biggest passion.”