The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked an abundance of lists of Black- and POC-owned businesses that everyone can support at this time. And in light of COVID-19, many restaurants need that support more than ever.
It’s estimated that almost half of Black-owned businesses across the country have shut down since the pandemic began, due in large part to a lack of savings and trouble getting access to federal loans. However, Yelp says searches for Black-owned businesses on that platform have “increased 35-fold” during this year’s protests against systemic racism and police brutality, according to USA Today.
But are the lists and increased searches enough? Will that sustain these restaurants in the long run after the protests have stopped and when COVID-19 is no longer a pandemic?
We interviewed restaurant owners to find out what they truly need for their businesses to thrive today, tomorrow and in the future.
Gregory Brown and Naijha Wright-Brown, owners of The Land of Kush
Gregory Brown and Naijha Wright-Brown, owners of The Land of Kush, a vegan soul food restaurant in Baltimore, have noticed an uptick in business in the past few months. Brown believes it will continue, but “it obviously is a trend for some.”
While some food delivery apps have lowered fees for Black-owned restaurants, Wright-Brown suggests that whenever possible, customers should order directly from the restaurant itself. While being listed on one of these apps can open a business up to a larger customer base, it can come at a literal cost due to high commissions.
When customers order directly from The Land of Kush’s site, “we save on commissions through this method of purchase,” Wright-Brown said. She estimates the business, which serves 100% plant-based meals, saves between 17% and 21% when customers order directly through their website, rather than using a third party.
Brown hopes that people who can’t support Black-owned businesses with their dollars will get involved by petitioning local politicians to review biases in grants and small business loans. It’s been estimated that Black business owners are twice as likely to be turned down for a loan as their white counterparts.
Robert “Don Pooh” Cummins, owner of Brooklyn Chop House
Though some restaurants have been hurt by the high fees associated with delivery apps, Brooklyn Chop House owner Robert “Don Pooh” Cummins can appreciate the convenience they offer.
“They’re helping restaurants because they’re allowing us to get our food to people who wouldn’t necessarily have the time to come to the restaurant,” Cummins said. “I think it’s become an asset for most businesses to be able to have these delivery apps available for customers to order food from, and most delivery apps seem to have reduced their fees.”
Most of Brooklyn Chop House’s online orders come from Caviar, Seamless and Uber Eats, and Cummins said the reduced fees have helped tremendously. These savings can also get passed on to the customer, with Uber Eats waiving the delivery fee for Black-owned restaurants, excluding franchises.
At the start of the pandemic, Brooklyn Chop House, a favorite of celebs like Jamie Foxx, Spike Lee and Mary J. Blige, received donations from the likes of Voss water and Junior’s Cheesecake to provide front-line workers with food.
And Cummins wants corporate brands to continue to step up.
“Corporations should invest in minority [businesses],” he said. “More access to capital and finance is always a great option or vehicle to have during difficult times in your business, and I feel there’s a lack of accessibility to financial capital that the business needs from time to time.”
Patrice Bates Thompson, owner of The Four Way
The aforementioned corporate and government support is what has helped The Four Way survive. The family-run soul food restaurant has been a staple in Memphis, Tennessee, since 1946. But like most businesses, it has been hit hard by COVID-19.
“Although we are not able to operate at full capacity, we have received tremendous support from local services through the city, other government agencies and local churches,” owner Patrice Bates Thompson told HuffPost.
In June, the restaurant was awarded a $5,000 grant that Thompson said allowed her to meet operational expenses and pay vendors and employees.
But there’s another timeless way Thompson says customers can assist restaurants: simple word of mouth. The Four Way has seen a slight increase in online reviews, which she says has helped a lot and may even be responsible for some new faces she’s seen. The reviews can be online, or even just take the form of sharing the experience with friends or family.
“Word of mouth is the most powerful and best advertisement we have,” Thompson said. “It has been one of the most sustaining lifelines of our business. We love our customers and they are our best form of advertisement.”
Kelli Lemon, owner of Urban Hang Suite
While many restaurants have experienced a downturn due to the pandemic, the opposite has been true for Kelli Lemon, owner of Urban Hang Suite in Richmond, Virginia. Since shifting to online and to-go orders, her coffee shop and cafe is actually making more money while having a lower overhead.
She’s also noticed an uptick in white customers.
“Some of us have been in these same spots for years, we just were never an option for you. We weren’t even on your radar,” Lemon said of white customers who’ve suddenly discovered Black-owned businesses like hers.
One way she wants customers to show support is through repeat visits, as opposed to one-offs. “I have to consistently have you coming through my doors,” she said. “If your agency you work for needs lunches or large orders of coffee, I want you to think about me before you think about Panera.”
Lemon also challenged people to get creative and think of ways to “keep the blessings and energy flowing in the Black community.”
“A lot of my white friends ask me what they can do to help,” Lemon told HuffPost. To which she responds: “What do you do well that you can share with somebody else?”
This can mean offering up your services ― if you’re a graphic designer, for example, or have a legal background ― and providing businesses with the resources they need, and may have been systematically denied, to grow.
Lemon, one of the founders of the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience, which recently raised $50,000 for businesses in the area, remains hopeful. “Black hospitality may come out ahead,” she said, “because during the worst of times, we still find a way to shine.”