This Black-Owned Oat Milk Company Is Changing the Plant-Based Game

Ghost Town Oats is partnering with coffee shops and allowing drinkers to invest.

Ghost Town Oats
Photo courtesy of Ghost Milk Oats, Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Photo courtesy of Ghost Milk Oats, Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Long gone are the days when soy and almond milk reigned supreme as the only two popular plant-based milk options. The past several years has seen a boom in the popularity of oat milk here in the United States, which seemingly developed a cult following overnight. It’s easy to see why the dairy alternative has become so popular, as it’s a source of protein and fiber with a taste that is much more reminiscent of cow’s milk than most other plant-based milks.

While oat milk has continued to grow in popularity, it seems that the plant-based milk industry caters primarily to a relatively wealthy, white demographic with an interest in wellness. This is where the country’s first Black-owned oat milk company, Los Angeles-based Ghost Town Oats, comes into play.

Created by Michelle Johnson, of The Chocolate Barista, and her partners, Ezra Baker and Eric Grimm, a group of coffee professionals with over 40 years of cumulative experience, Ghost Town Oats is using its combined 40 years of cumulative experience to redefine the culture around plant-based milks.

“We’re a group of misfits who are jumping into this space that has just had this elitist, classist air around it,” Johnson says. “This connotation that you have to be living a certain way or lifestyle to be a part of the plant-based milk movement.”

The team at Ghost Town Oats believes that inclusivity and accessibility need to be a focus in the plant-based milk movement, and that brands are missing out by failing to engage with a larger demographic.

The trio, who all felt that they were yet to come across the perfect oat milk, started Ghost Town in December 2020. They used their combined wealth of knowledge to dive headfirst into the development process. For example, Baker had a specialized Q Grader certification, making him an expert taster. “We really leaned on our collective experience tasting coffee, and grading coffee taste, to start developing this oat milk,” Johnson says.

Ghost Milk Oats
Ghost Milk Oats | Photo courtesy of Ghost Milk Oats

The team began by testing every oat milk that currently exists, and pinpointing what they did and didn’t like about each one. They were determined to come up with an oat milk that ticked all of the boxes. Finally, during the summer of 2021, after months of testing and developing, the team arrived at a final product that they felt excited about. “We ended up with something that is deliciously creamy, very reminiscent of whole milk, steams beautifully, and has a little bit of sweetness to it,” Johnson says.

As a team of baristas, they were aiming to create an oat milk that would not only taste great, but that would also be impressive to other baristas. “Coffee shops were the major pusher of plant-based milks,” Baker says. However, he believes that this contributed to the limited scope that plant-based milk companies have had. “But coffee shops kind of only target one type of person.”

In line with their ethos of inclusivity, Ghost Town is using platform WeFunder to provide those who contribute with an opportunity to become investors in Ghost Town. “As little as $100 and you will get a piece of the company,” Johnson says. “It’s super important to us to create this avenue for people to be able to invest in something for the first time, potentially opening up a pathway for generational wealth. This is for-the-people, by-the-people-ass company, and so we’re doing that in every way possible, including fundraising.”

Ghost Town Oats should officially be available this summer. The team is currently doing monthly pop-ups at Black Market Flea in LA and working on distribution to coffee shops. A form on the website allows shops to join the waitlist, which currently includes over 100 coffee companies throughout the U.S. and Canada.

In the meantime, the company is also working on a limited drop of direct to consumer inventory, which is scheduled to be available on the website sometime in May.

“[Traditional] oat milk companies are leaving money on the table, having this marketing and branding that only attracts a certain amount of people,” Johnson says. “There are so many other people out here who would benefit from it, and buy it if they feel like they can be a part of it.”

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Nicole Rufus is a food writer and master’s student in Food Studies at NYU. You can find her in her kitchen testing new recipes and playing around with West African ingredients.