Black Restaurant Owners Face Unique Challenges Reopening Their Businesses As Pandemic Diminishes

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But restaurateurs who can no longer afford a traditional brick-and-mortar operation have found a lifeline in the form of food trucks, food halls and ghost kitchens.

Ghost kitchens are typically delivery or take out operations that reduce overhead costs for restaurateurs. They have become extremely popular during the pandemic. Food halls offer similar flexibility, renting equipment and space from independent food service operators in a food court-like setting.

Business leaders say black restaurant owners have moved into ghost kitchens at a disproportionately higher rate since the start of the pandemic. In part, that’s because black-owned brick-and-mortar restaurants have been among the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic.

“Not only is it a viable thing for black business owners, it’s a viable thing for the hospitality industry in general,” said Adriane Mack, CEO of Miss Mack Enterprises, a hospitality business development company. based in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. Mack and his business partners are finalizing plans to open a ghost kitchen in this historically black neighborhood later this year.

Some business leaders don’t like the dining room and ghost kitchen model. Black Chambers of Commerce President and CEO Ron Busby Sr. compared it to sharecropping, a common post-Civil War agricultural practice in which black farmers rented and cultivated land typically owned by white men. richer.

“We didn’t own the property and it was difficult for us to have sustainability, to build generational wealth,” said Busby. “I always say we don’t need more sharecroppers.”

But Mack said ghost kitchens make it easier for black restaurateurs with limited access to capital to start their businesses or restart for those who have been forced to shut down during the pandemic.

“I think a ghost kitchen actually allows them to come back to their own space,” she said. “It gives them the opportunity to keep their brand alive. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.”

“A springboard to go to the next level”

Jasmine Brown, owner of a food service in Dayton, Ohio, converted her old brick and mortar restaurant, De’Lish Cafe, to a food truck business in August. At the start of the pandemic, she said, she considered moving her business to a more permanent location, but Covid-19 lockdowns caused her to rethink that plan.

“I was like, ‘I don’t want to take that risk’ because there were too many unknowns,” Brown said.

So rather than going the traditional restaurant route, Brown signed a lease on a new Dayton-area food court called West Social Tap & Table, which is slated to open in October.

Food halls can help rising brands establish themselves before they embark on purchasing expensive dining spaces and kitchen equipment, says Cheryl Dillin, corporate brand manager for Dillin LLC, the promoter. real estate behind West Tap & Social.

“Every business owner’s business plan doesn’t include being a property manager and owner,” Dillin said. “This food hall gives local entrepreneurs the opportunity to prove themselves, to win over a local audience. It’s like a stepping stone to take them to the next level.”

Brown was one of 17 black restaurant owners who recently received a $ 10,000 grant from the National Urban League’s Black Restaurant Accelerator, a PepsiCo Foundation-funded program that distributes a total of $ 10 million over five years. to black restaurateurs in cities across the country.

The civil rights group’s partnership with PepsiCo is one of several private sector initiatives aimed at helping black entrepreneurs stay in business after a tumultuous 2020.

Black businesses have been disproportionately affected by Covid

Forty-one percent of black-owned businesses shut down in the spring of last year, when state and local governments across the country ordered non-essential businesses shut down, according to a pair of studies from the New York Fed and the University of California at Santa Cruz. According to the Santa Cruz study, only 17% of white-owned businesses closed during the same period.

National Urban League president Marc Morial said there was no way of knowing for sure how many black-owned restaurants were lost forever, but programs funded by companies like his are helping launch an emerging class of black food service providers.

“There is going to be this new generation who are going to be entrepreneurs who will come out of the pandemic recession because they lost their jobs,” Morial told CNN Business. “The call to action now is not just more loans. The call to action now is equity, grants, money to help people get back on their feet.”

Spending at restaurants across the country has been on the rise since March, as more Americans resume their pre-pandemic ritual of dining out regularly. But many independent restaurants are still struggling to reopen, and business leaders say black restaurant owners are particularly struggling to bounce back.

It is estimated that 90,000 restaurants have closed permanently or long term since the start of the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association.

“A lot of the spaces and places we were historically not there anymore,” Busby said.



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