Black-owned restaurants are the backbone of the black community and many have been in business for generations. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on these businesses, with 41% of black ownership declining and 51% of black-owned businesses experiencing low sales. This was the largest decline of any racial group during the pandemic. Black entrepreneurs have long faced systemic barriers to growth, including access to loans and capital, skewed perceptions of community, and challenges of gentrification. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated these barriers.
The Black Restaurant Accelerator (BRA) program stepped in and pledged to pay $10 million to black-owned restaurants to ensure their survival and prosperity. The program is a partnership between the PepsiCo Foundation and the National Urban League.
“As a large food and beverage company, we thought about the opportunities we had to make a powerful, local impact in black communities,” said CD Glin, global head of philanthropy and vice chairman of the PepsiCo Foundation. “Many black-owned restaurants have had to adapt to the many challenges created by the pandemic and when we considered how to help, focusing on black restaurants became an opportunity to have a big impact. We couldn’t do it alone, so we brought in the National Urban League, our long-time partner, which has community ties and a focus on local economic growth. This is how the BRA program was born.
The results have been monumental. In one year, the BRA rewarded 100 black restaurant owners with financial assistance. Additionally, 400 restaurants received holistic support including counseling and training sessions. The program plans to provide direct assistance in the form of grants to 500 companies, as well as technical assistance and mentoring. So far, he has created 14 new businesses and saved over 60 jobs.
“The question we asked ourselves was if we could help these restaurants get back on their feet, reopen and reimagine a future that includes implementing new foods, delivery services and business goals. The five-year goal is to serve 500 businesses,” said Marc MorialPresident and CEO of the National Urban League.
As people have started to attend cultural and community events in person again, it’s often small businesses like black-owned restaurants that make those events possible.
“Black ownership doesn’t mean you only serve what I call black kitchen, which are dishes associated with African American culture, Caribbean culture, or continental African culture. They also serve Asian, vegan and Italian food,” Morial said. “We have a new generation of entrepreneurs trying their hand at building new restaurants, creating new menus, and more like the Vaucresson family in New Orleans, who have been in business for three generations and are working to build and maintain its businesses.
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The Vaucresson family has three generations of butchers specializing in sausages at the Maison de la Saucisse de Vaucresson. After Hurricane Katrina closed the business, the family decided to replant their roots and rename their business. As they rebuild their sausage business, after the devastating effects of Katrina and Covid, they will also open a deli cafe in the neighborhood where they have existed for 120 years. In addition to their cafe, they will offer two primarily affordable apartments to house native New Orleans residents who have been displaced due to gentrification.
“It’s wonderful to find resources like the Black Restaurant Accelerator program. It has provided a wonderful amount of money to restaurants suffering from the pandemic. But they also bring their expertise; their knowledge is lifelong and is truly the crown jewel of the program,” said Vance Vaucresson, owner and operator of Vaucresson’s Sausage Company. This prevents us as business owners from making very costly mistakes. It’s not just a grant or financial aid, it’s the support they provide that is most valuable.
To learn more about the Black Restaurant Accelerator (BRA) program, visit the National Urban League.