By Demetrius Dillard
While many restaurants have bounced back from the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a number are still struggling.
Over the course of the pandemic’s two-year span, countless restaurants have been forced to close down, and 80% of them reported that they are on the verge of permanent closure without financial assistance, according to the Independent Restaurant Coalition.
Black-owned businesses have been affected disproportionately worse than others by the pandemic, notes The PepsiCo Foundation. In response to this ongoing crisis, the company has established two philanthropic programs – the Black Restaurant Accelerator and Pepsi Dig In – designed to provide promotion, technical assistance, access to capital and more to Black restaurateurs across the country.
Sandovan Restaurant & Lounge, a Jamaican restaurant in the Petworth neighborhood of Northwest D.C., specializes in tropical Caribbean cuisine. As a participant in the Pepsi Dig In Black Restaurants Deliver program, the business was able to set up a new website, regain online listing access, and launch a new online ordering and catering system.
Chef’s of the Streets, also based in the D.C. area, is a mobile catering service serving soul food, along with vegan and vegetarian options. The business used resources and tools from the Black Restaurant Accelerator program to purchase its first catering truck, expand advertising efforts, and pay for travel to pop-up events and other opportunities.
“With Black-owned restaurants suffering from pre-existing barriers and being hit hard by the pandemic, we knew we had to make an investment to help them recover and become more resilient,” said Jamelle Lacey, Senior Manager of the PepsiCo Foundation’s Racial Equality Journey.
“We are honored to work with the National Urban League and the broader PepsiCo teams to create opportunities for Black-owned businesses to build generational wealth and continue to strengthen their communities.”
Funded by The PepsiCo Foundation and facilitated by the Urban League, the recently launched Black Restaurant Accelerator addresses barriers that Black businesses face, building an “actionable plan for growth” through direct assistance grants to 500 businesses located in various cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, D.C., Jacksonville, Fla., Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Houston, Cleveland, New Orleans, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Cincinnati.
Likewise, through Pepsi Dig In, PepsiCo has committed $50 million over five years to support the upward mobility and sustainability of Black restaurateurs.
“We’re very happy, pleased and grateful that we were able to receive the resources and funding because it did pick up a lot of business for us and opened up a lot of opportunities which we are greatly appreciative for,” said Shamara Watson, co-owner of Chef’s of the Streets.
Chef’s of the Streets participates in pop-up events in the DMV region and has set its sights on acquiring a trailer to commute up and down the East Coast for participation in festivals and events. Once the business is better established, Watson and her brother, David Watson (other co-owner) may look into establishing a brick-and-mortar location.
“It’s a lot that we are affected by, but just having programs like this…it keeps hope alive, keeps the dream alive,” Watson told the AFRO.
“I just thank the universe and God for putting us in contact and putting us in a position with people who are able to help us, who believe in us, see our vision and rooting for us too.”