In the winter of 2008, the Bloom brothers sat at a bar in Argentina to sketch out a business plan on the back of a cocktail napkin. Their idea was simple. Open a Jewish delicatessen serving traditional Jewish comfort food with the best Californian ingredients.
As the older sibling, Ari Bloom felt compelled to give his brother Evan some tough love. Serving pastrami and matzo ball soup in the middle of a recession without prior experience in the restaurant industry was going to be tough . Nonetheless, Ari still agreed to help put together a business plan. Today, Wise Sons, a San Francisco-based chain of delis and bagel shops, has grown to become a global brand with over 11 retail locations, including one in Tokyo.
“If you talk to people that I’ve worked with over the years — that could be chefs, fashion designers, celebrities, athletes —I’ve been in the room to help them make their ideas a reality,” said Ari. “And my brother was just one of the first people I ever did that with.”
Turning an idea into an investment
After Wise Sons, Ari went on to become CEO of Avametric, an AR imaging company that Initialized invested in as early as 2013. When Gerber Technology acquired Avametric in 2018, our general partner Alda Leu Dennis called Ari to check in.
The call wasn’t intended as a pitch, but she immediately recognized the opportunity when Ari talked about developing personal care brands for underrepresented communities.
“It was one of those very easy, quick conversations that tell you that you should be in business with somebody when they hear what you’re doing and intuitively get it without a formal PowerPoint presentation,” said Ari.
A-Frame is structured as a Los Angeles-based holding company that develops socially responsible direct-to-consumer personal care and wellness brands. Each brand launched by A-Frame has a celebrity partner who serves as a co-founder and co-owner. For example, one of the first products A-Frame helped to launch last year was KINLÒ, a sun-care brand from tennis player Naomi Osaka. Like KINLÒ, many of the products A-Frame is helping to develop are made specifically for melanated skin tones.
Initialized Capital led A-Frame’s $2M pre-seed round in 2020 and participated in the $11.2M funding round announced last week. As a board member, Alda has helped the team grow by making investor introductions, providing strategic advice, and interviewing job candidates.
The additional funding will help A-Frame gear up for three launches over the next six months, including a skincare line from musician John Legend and a baby care brand from actress Gabrielle Union and NBA-star Dwyane Wade.
Building brands for the “unseen” and “unheard”
For Ari, the desire to build brands for the “unseen” and “unheard” stems from his childhood growing up Jewish in a mostly conservative Christian part of Ventura, California, 78 miles northwest of Los Angeles. As one of 10 Jewish students in his grade at a school of 2,500 kids, he was regularly harassed.
The experience of being “othered” stuck with him at an early age and inspired him to build brands that are as diverse as the U.S. population.
“30 to 50 percent of the population out there are not getting the products that they need just because of the way they were born, because of their gender identification, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, age, whatever it is,” said Ari. “It’s not about a portion of the market. It’s actually the market.”
A-Frame’s commitment to diversity is not just about the brands they represent. A-Frame’s business is also built with diversity at its foundation. The team is over 90% diverse, and the board is majority women and people of color.
“We look different than everybody else, and that’s power, that’s strength,” Ari said, joking that without him, the team would actually be 100% diverse. “What we’ve found is by focusing on diversity, we don’t just look diverse. We actually function better. It’s a smarter way to build business today.”