theGrio’s ‘Staying In Business’ explores Black restaurants facing COVID-19

theGrio explores what happens to Black food entrepreneurs during a pandemic during episode two of the new digital series

Photo: Keston Duke Photography

In episode two of the Facebook Watch series Staying In Business, theGrio dives into the stories of Black restauranteers who hope to stay open through and beyond the coronavirus pandemic. Across the country, many businesses are legendary in name and history, yet face the struggles of being forced to close, losing customers, and losing income.

READ MORE: theGrio launches Facebook Watch series covering plight of Black-owned businesses during COVID-19

“All of a sudden, everything just stopped. I lost a business for a minute. I’m praying that I can recapture this business,” Ms. Linda Green told theGrio. “I have no income now. I was booked from January 2020 all the way up to December 2020.”

Green an award-winning chef, caterer, and food entrepreneur has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, winning her episode, interviewed with the late Anthony Bourdain, and serves her dishes to international celebrities by request.

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Known in New Orleans as the ‘Yaka Mein’ lady, Green hopes her business can recover but without access to loans and grants, it might be harder to sustain. Unfortunately, her plight is not unique. As we continue to deal with COVID-19, restaurants are taking a huge hit as an industry. Many Black-owned food businesses are experiencing the same despair on multiple levels.

We have heard numbers as high as 35 to 40 percent Black-owned businesses, will not reopen because of this pandemic,” Ron Busby told theGrio. Busby serves as the president and CEO of the US Black Chambers Inc.

The majority of the 2.6 million Black faces that we have in the country are not mom and pop their mom or pop their self -employed businesses,” Busby said.

In Washington, D.C., landmark restaurant Bens Chilli Bowl was initially not able to receive a PPP loan.

“We didn’t get anything,” Virginia Ali told theGrio. Virginia and her husband Mr. Ben Ali opened the restaurant in 1958 and became a prominent business in the community throughout the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Ben’s Chili Bowl is one of the very few places able to survive the uprising on the evening that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.  

Portrait of Ben’s Chili Bowl owner Virginia Ali standing behind the counter, Washington, DC, December 16, 2013. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

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Despite the hardships faced by many, some businesses are able to keep revenue steady amid the pandemic. Fetien Gebre-Michael the co-founder of Konjo Ethiopian Food says he adjusted to new business practices to operate during the pandemic. Starting as a catering company and evolving into a food-truck business, and then a casual sit-down restaurant, Konjo Ethiopian Food is no stranger to change.

“We’ve had to readjust our business model to try and basically stay in the rat race,” Gebre-Michael told theGrio. He continues “We shut down immediately after the whole thing went down because no one was going outside or business was coming. And after about three weeks, we relaunched the restaurant and the food truck to try to adhere to social distancing, curbside pickups, and what have you.”

While Konjo Ethiopian Food is able to stay in business, its revenue drastically shifted, with the business taking a week-and-a-half to earn what would typically be one day of profit.

For the full episode highlighting how the coronavirus pandemic continues to shift the Black food and restaurant business industry, view the full episode of Staying In Business on theGrio’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/theGrio).