This Juneteenth, many cities around the United States are holding events to boost local Black-owned restaurants. After all, while interest in Black-owned restaurants spiked in June 2020 amid the George Floyd protests, Google Trends shows, it has fallen dramatically since. Additionally, Black business owners tend to be excluded from many of the events that aim to support local restaurant owners.
“When we looked at a lot of the formal restaurant weeks … we noticed a lot of businesses within our community really didn’t have involvement,” Falayn Ferrell, co-founder and managing partner of the organization Black Restaurant Week, told PYMNTS in a March interview. “So we wanted to create a platform to showcase who they were … as well as to create some economic stability in our communities.”
While restaurants are beginning to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, Black business owners often have a longer road ahead, given the disproportionately high impact the events of the last 15 months have had on these businesses. An H&R Block study found revenues for Black-owned small businesses fell at least 50 percent in this period, while revenues at white-owned businesses only fell 37 percent.
Additionally, the AP reported, businesses owned by marginalized groups were largely overlooked by 2020’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. An analysis found that loans in ZIP codes with the highest percentages of white residents were awarded nearly twice as much as those in districts with the lowest.
“Many of our businesses were being turned down in the first and second round of funding. That caused application fatigue and frustration,” Ron Busby, president of the U.S. Black Chambers, an economic advocacy group representing Black businesses, told the publication.
In Michigan, for instance, the Detroit Free Press reported in September, 2 percent of restaurants that had received PPP loans were Black-owned, and 81 percent were white-owned. To put it another way, white-owned restaurants in the state were more than 40 times more likely to have their loans approved than their Black-owned counterparts.
Additionally, a Brookings Institute analysis finds that Black-owned businesses are discriminated against regardless of quality, explaining, “Highly rated businesses in Black-majority neighborhoods experience lower revenue growth than poorly rated businesses in neighborhoods that are less than 1% black.”
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Small Business released a mid-pandemic report entitled “The State of Black-Owned Small Businesses in America.” As Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, chairwoman of the committee, summarized in a statement, “Since the beginning of this pandemic, the virus has hit the Black community and Black business owners disproportionately hard.”
The report found that Black-owned businesses were disproportionately located in areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases and were less likely to have access to relief, noting that by April 2020, Black business ownership rates had already dropped 41 percent from February levels, the steepest drop of any racial group.
Juneteenth provides an opportunity to draw consumers’ attention to these disparities and to build support for Black-owned restaurants. In Chicago, the influential food blog Black People Eats is aiming to generate $1 million in sales for the city’s Black restaurants. Additionally, the blog has amassed a directory of restaurants in Chicago and Atlanta offering specials for the holiday, menu items for $6.19 (for June 19) or $16.19 (for 1619, the year the first enslaved Africans were brought to what later became the U.S.).
In New York, eight Black-owned bars and restaurants and several other local Black-owned businesses in Harlem are partnering with neighborhood business platform Experience Harlem, nonprofit advocacy group the Harlem Business Alliance, and corporate sponsor Maker’s Mark for a Shop & Sip event in which shoppers get a free cocktail. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, Black-owned seafood restaurant Fishnet is partnering with eleven other area Black-owned restaurants to provide exclusive access to a video of a Juneteenth celebration, featuring performances by local Black artists, to those who order from participating establishments on Friday (June 18) or Saturday (June 19). Restaurants will provide customers with a QR code to access the video.
“I want people to copy this idea,” Fishnet owner Keyia Yalcin told Restaurant Business. “I think there could be a lot of economic empowerment behind getting Juneteenth to the level of Cinco de Mayo or St. Patrick’s Day nationally if we adopted that idea.”
These sorts of events can make a significant difference, especially when they encourage those who enjoy the event to continue shopping from Black-owned businesses throughout the rest of the year. Black Restaurant Week Philadelphia participant Darlene Jones, who owns the restaurant Star Fusion Express, told The Daily Philadelphian, “Many times, small neighborhoods don’t get a lot of exposure, so this is helpful for any restaurant that doesn’t get a lot of traffic to their neighborhood.”
There is definitely a sense of hope. A survey of small business released last month (May 2021) by Public Private Strategies, a group that aims to unite the private and public sectors “to solve pressing societal challenges,” in partnership with the U.S. Black Chambers, among other racial advocacy commerce groups, found that Black business owners are very optimistic about the future. Fully 83 percent agreed with the statement “I am optimistic about the future of my business,” compared to only 70 percent of white business owners and 77 percent of all business owners surveyed.