August is Black Business Owner Month, and at PRT, we understand the importance of representing underserved and often wrongfully ignored communities. Black business ownership is so important to Black communities, the economy, and the overall spirit of enterprise. Essence Smith (PRT) and Metta Smith (CU) had the privilege of speaking with Harvey Williams, co-founder and president of Delta Dirt Distillery (Helena-West Helena, Arkansas), to discuss being a Black business owner in a rural community. From the importance of resources to the rewards of hard work and innovation, Mr. Williams shared his insights on what it takes to succeed as a minority entrepreneur.
The Road Less Traveled: Joys and Challenges of Business Ownership
Starting and maintaining a business, especially as a minority entrepreneur, comes with unique challenges. Mr. Williams emphasized the significance of having access to resources – not just financial – but functional and knowledge sharing.
“I wish I had known about CU when I got started.”
Small minority businesses often face barriers to accessing the right resources to navigate obstacles. Mr. Williams highlighted that while challenges are inherent to the business world, the key lies in having the determination and focus to troubleshoot and overcome them. Thereby unlocks the joy. Mr. Williams spoke passionately about setting his company’s tone, direction, and mission. He emphasized the sense of accomplishment that comes from bringing a product to life and watching it thrive. As a small business owner, he shared that the rewards are often more immediate, allowing for a closer connection with the results of one’s efforts. For Mr. Williams, one of the greatest joys is witnessing people appreciate the product, the brand, and the space created. He so eloquently stated, “As a Black business owner, it’s always rewarding to see [your] people come in and say, ‘I’m really proud of what you’re doing here.’”
From Farming to Distilling: A Family Journey
Behind every small business is an engine pumping out tenacity, passion, and sizable effort. For Mr. Williams, that engine is his family. He is grateful to till his land and distill his spirits alongside his wife (Donna) and two sons (Donovan and Thomas). However, he’s no stranger to family business, especially as a land steward. Growing up in a farming household, he developed a deep appreciation for the land of the Arkansas Delta from his father, Harvey Sr. Harvey Sr. tilled the ground that the family had worked since the 1800s, and eventually, the farm evolved into the source of Delta Dirt Distillery’s raw crops. The idea of taking raw materials and turning them into value-added spirits resonated with him.
“There’s some reward in that, too, just knowing that we’re growing the stuff on the farm that’s going to be used for [the] finished product that a consumer is going to go enjoy.”
And rewarding it is. With offerings of vodka and gin (and soon bourbon), Delta Dirt Distillery was ranked in the World’s Best Vodkas in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2022 and 2023 and received subsequent mention in Forbes.
Sowing Seeds into the Community: More than Crops
Delta Dirt Distillery isn’t just about business but also about community and inspiration. They offer tours of the facility and give in-depth lessons about how harvested crops become the spirit served.
“Here in rural America, specifically this part of Arkansas, most people don’t even know what a distillery does…it takes the mystery out of what we do. Black people’s level with alcohol is [usually] only at the retail level…it starts in the field…with the raw material.”
Mr. Williams and his family are deeply committed to giving back to the Arkansas region that raised them and provides them with a home. A portion of the distillery’s sales is consistently donated to organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and CASA, a local organization that advocates for children. The distillery also serves as an inspiration to aspiring business owners, particularly those from minority communities. Delta Dirt Distillery and its story serve as beacons of hope for those who wish to turn their entrepreneurial dreams into reality. So, what does Mr. Williams advise aspiring business owners to do? “Do your homework, do your research. Be okay getting critical feedback…that may be different from your own opinion, because even if you don’t take it, think about how helpful that information can be for you.”
Vision for The Future: What’s Next for Delta Dirt Distillery?
Harvey Williams’ journey as a black business owner in rural Arkansas showcases the power of perseverance, resourcefulness, and community involvement. Through Delta Dirt Distillery, he has demonstrated that innovation, hard work, and a commitment to excellence can lead to remarkable achievements. His story serves as an inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs and a reminder that with the right resources and determination, any obstacle can be overcome. As Delta Dirt Distillery continues to grow and thrive, Harvey Williams’ legacy as a trailblazing entrepreneur will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on the business world and his community. As strikingly as he began, Mr. Williams left us with one promising message: “Just know that there are great things in rural America, rural Arkansas, the Arkansas Delta. And there’s more to come.”