Program supporting Black-owned restaurants hits a milestone

The Black Restaurant Accelerator Program created by the National Urban League and the PepsiCo Foundation has so far awarded 100 restaurateurs grants of $10,000 each.

A program designed to help Black-owned restaurants survive and thrive reached a milestone: It has provided $10,000 grants to 100 restaurateurs across the country.

The National Urban League and PepsiCo created the Black Restaurant Accelerator Program in 2020. The PepsiCo Foundation provided $10 million in funding to help 500 mostly Black-owned businesses thrive by offering mentoring, training and access to capital.

From left, the PepsiCo Foundation’s C.D. Glin, Marc Morial of the National Urban League, and Julie and Vance Vaucresson, founders of the Vaucresson Creole Café and Black Restaurant Accelerator participants, celebrate Year Two of the program’s community impact on May 2, 2022, in New Orleans. (Photo: Peter Forest/Getty Images for The PepsiCo Foundation)

The accelerator has had an impressive start. It’s provided $1.6 million in finance and contract opportunities, created 14 new business ventures and saved an additional 60 positions, according to a press release.

Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, told theGrio that the program has overperformed.

“We knew that the pandemic had devastated the small business sector at large, but disproportionately affected the Black small business sector,” Morial said. “The energy behind this initiative was to help those who either closed temporarily reopen or those who had stayed open but had great difficulty to build and revive themselves. [It’s a] let’s help you get back on your feet program so you can employ people and continue to do the great work you do to serve food and create a place for people to gather and share friendships.”

The accelerator program began as COVID-19 proved especially crippling to Black-owned businesses. The Committee on Small Business said that between February and April 2020, the Black business ownership rate dropped by 41%, more than any other racial group.

Black-owned businesses have historically faced problems getting the capital they need to launch. The 2021 Black Business Owner Spotlight by Bank of America reported that 56% of Black business owners said they continue to have problems accessing capital, which hinders growth. 

The Brookings Institute, using data from several sources, painted a bleak picture: Just 1% of Black-owned businesses received funding in their initial start-up year vs. 7% of white companies. When they do get loans, Black companies pay a higher interest rate. When compared to white businesses, they’re also twice as likely to be denied a bank loan or given one that’s lower than the amount needed.

Lastly, half of all Black-owned businesses suffered record losses in January 2021, a number far higher than the 36% of all companies. 

So PepsiCo and the Urban League partnered, using the league’s entrepreneurship centers across the United States to operate the accelerator program. The league has 11 such centers and will soon open No. 12.

Vance Vaucresson (left) of the Vaucresson Creole Café, a Black Restaurant Accelerator participant, shares a moment with PepsiCo Foundation Vice President C.D. Glin in New Orleans. (Photo: Peter Forest/Getty Images for The PepsiCo Foundation)

The accelerator program helps people like Julie Vaucresson, founder of the New Orleans-based Vaucresson Sausage Company, which makes sausages for restaurants and will soon open a café and deli. Vaucresson’s business received $10,000 to help improve its interior, upgrade computers and market the business, among other things.

“Programs like this, people don’t realize that it may not sound like a large dollar amount, but to small businesses like us, it’s huge,” she said in an interview with theGrio.

But there’s another component: Most Black-owned businesses tend to be small and owned by people who live and work in their neighborhood. An investment in them is like an investment in the community. 

“These businesses are also community gathering spots,” Morial said. “They’re meeting spots where people go with their families and friends, they go to connect, they go to have conversations. And that means they become a magnet and have a multiplying impact on other businesses in those neighborhoods because eating is a necessity.”

 C.D. Glin, the global head of philanthropy and vice president of the PepsiCo. Foundation, sees the importance of this effort.

“We are a catalyst in this,” Glin said. “We and the Urban League have started something. We’re on to something. This is not a new need. It’s a known need, access to finance, support for black businesses in the black community.”

Glin hopes that PepsiCo’s commitment can be an example for others.

“Pepsico’s doing what we can do, and we’re a catalyst in this, but we want it to be a clarion call to other corporations, other efforts to sort of put a spotlight on the need of these heartbeats of the black community — black restaurants, black food service providers,” Glin told theGrio. “And if our support — our initial support of $10 million over five years to the Urban League — can be a catalyst too that draws in other funding so that they can overperform and get [more] funding, let it be.”

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