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New Website Helps Diners Find Black-Owned Restaurants

OUR WEEKLY LOS ANGELES — “African-Americans make up only eight percent of restaurant owners and managers in the U.S.,” said Warren Luckett, co-founder of BRW in a recent Forbes feature. “Our mission is to provide a platform that calls for inclusion in the industry and exposes and elevates black-owned businesses.”

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With the popularity and general necessity of food, one might wonder, why there aren’t many more black-owned restaurants? (Photo: iStockPhoto / NNPA)

By Lisa Fitch, Our Weekly News Los Angeles Contributor

More than 2,000 Black-owned eateries are featured on the new internet-based restaurant locator eatblackowned.com, which launched June 21 intending to support Black-owned restaurants.

“There’s only one thing that everyone in this world has in common: we all love great tasting food,” creator Edward L. Dillard said. “We have soul food, vegan, BBQ, Caribbean, seafood and more listed on the site.”

“I believe that if people have a place where they can find all the minority-owned restaurants in this country, more of us will start to support these small businesses,” Dillard said.

Increasing Black dollar circulation

“Ninety-three cents of every dollar spent by Black consumers produces no economic benefit for the Black community, as the dollar only circulates in the community for six hours,” he adds.

A professional truck driver for a company out of New Jersey, Dillard has been on the road for 15 years, and travels across the country four or five days of the week.

“I didn’t like the direction of the country,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I wanted to do more to support Black-owned businesses, but I was always gone. I don’t spend money on clothes, accessories or shoes. The majority of my money was going to food.

“I decided to spend it in different restaurants,” he added, noting that the internet was of little help. “The problem was only the major cities and only real popular restaurants would come up in my search. The really small ones wouldn’t come up.” There already are some existing websites promoting Black-owned businesses in general, but they don’t have a lot of restaurant listings.

Dillard was inspired.

Have a vision and go forward

“I had a vision in mind but didn’t have the experience in designing a website,” he said. “Luckily, there’s Google and You Tube. They pretty much teach you everything! I realized there was a small chance that I might be able to make this happen.”

Dillard spent nearly five months conducting research for his project, collecting the names and addresses of more than 2,000 restaurants in the U.S. Then, he completed the website design.

“It took me a long time to design a website,” Dillard said. “What surprised me is that I got the job done.”

Working as a one-man show, Dillard then collected the restaurant pictures and website links to complete the project for launch. So far, the site includes 94 restaurants in New York, but only 35 within a 25-mile radius of downtown LA.

Fostering culinary inclusion

“African-Americans make up only eight percent of restaurant owners and managers in the U.S.,” said Warren Luckett, co-founder of BRW in a recent Forbes feature. “Our mission is to provide a platform that calls for inclusion in the industry and exposes and elevates black-owned businesses.”

Visit https://labrw.com for a list of participating BRW restaurants.

With the popularity and general necessity of food, one might wonder, why there aren’t many more black-owned restaurants?

“Access to capital,” explained Veronica Hendrix, who participated in a panel discussion on food at a recent LA chapter meeting of the National Association of Black Journalists. “It takes a lot to start a restaurant, in terms of finding a location; working with the leasing company agreement; and overhead costs.”

“I think that’s why so many of them are choosing alternative ways of creating a presence in the community,” Hendrix added. “Food trucks, pop ups, becoming personal chefs, cooking for small groups—just looking for alternative ways of raising capital.”

Setting realistic goals

“A lot of banks initially look at them as a risk until they’re proven,” Hendrix said.

Nearly 60 percent of restaurants fail within their first three years, according to recent studies of business start-ups. Restaurateurs have to set realistic goals; conduct market research and analysis; and have an original concept with good food.

‘“I love talking about food,” said Hendrix, who currently writes a blog called “Collard Greens and Caviar”— a take on her wide range of food tastes, from down-south soul food to European delicacies.

“Social media has been huge for me,” Hendrix said. “Through social media, I’ve created a sense of food family.”

The panel — which also included Noelle Carter, who formerly worked in the LA Times test kitchen; and Mona Holmes, writer for Eater Los Angeles — agreed that food journalists are not taken very seriously, even though food is something we deal with every day, preparing it, or eating it, or both.

“Food is very personal,” Hendrix said. “It can create a lot of memories and evoke feelings.”

Attracting regular customers

The panel agreed that almost nothing beats homemade, although many restaurants seek to replicate the looks, smells and tastes of family kitchens, creating an experience that creates a regular customer.

Hendrix admitted that whenever she smells nutmeg, she thinks about her mother’s homemade teacakes.

“That smell triggers comfort, love and safety,” she said. “For us, those teacakes were everything.”

The late Leah Chase, whose restaurant, Dooky Chase, served as an important New Orleans meeting spot during the Civil Rights movement, agreed: “Food builds big bridges,” she said. “If you can eat with someone, you can learn from them and when you learn from someone, you can make big changes.”

Dooky Chase was named one of the 40 most important restaurants of the past 40 years by Food & Wine.

It takes a great deal of work to evoke such a place and create such feelings. To that end, restaurant owners work especially hard. Eatblackowned.com hopes to assist them on the advertising front.

Dillard has plans to include more Black-owned food businesses on the website. “There are Black-owned franchises,” Dillard said. “I will list them, but I’m having a hard time finding those franchises. Rapper Rick Ross owns a lot of Wingstops in Florida—we’ve added them.

“Some Black-owned franchises don’t promote that they’re Black-owned,” he added. “They ‘keep it corporate.’ We do have some franchises listed: Tiger Woods, Shaquille and Michael Jordan have a few franchises.”

A vanishing industry

African American culture has gone global with the exception of soul food. Across the United States, legendary soul food restaurants have closed. In big cities like Chicago, these once-popular restaurants are no more: Army and Louis (1945-2010), Gladys Luncheonette (1946-2001), Izola’s (1950-2011). In New York City: Copelands (1962-2007), and in Los Angeles most of the popular M&M (Mississippi Mary) restaurants (1968 through early 2000s), as well as Aunt Kizzy’s Back Porch have been shuttered.

Lavell Jackson, a former co-owner of The Candy Store, believes several factors like African American migration, African-Americans preparing their own dishes, more Blacks preferring fast food, internal turmoil among family-owned Black restaurants, healthier options and the economic slowdown have done harm to a “niche industry.”

“In regard to the economy, I made hundreds of thousands of dollars during the crack cocaine era,” Jackson said. “My diner was filled with drug kingpins, as well as the local clergy, beautiful women, as well as professional athletes. Now places like Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles–one of the small numbers of diners — has survived and has been dependent on a small cult following. I believe gentrification will give the industry a boost, also.”

Rate restaurants on website

A user’s login page will also be added this fall, with customer reviews and a star system to rate each restaurant.

“Within the next two to three months, I would like to have the members section set up,” Dillard said. “There, you will be able to login with a custom user name and pass code. Members will be able to rate restaurants, leave comments and add pictures for the restaurant.

“Eventually, I will have a page for recipes,” he added. “Members will be able to post their recipes for visitors of the website to search and read.”

Businesses can post a eatblackowned.com listing by completing a form online, which asks for the name, location, contact information and other details of the establishment. Company logos and images can also be added, along with a restaurant description.

“There are two options: basic listings and featured listings,” Dillard said. “Featured listings are paid for and they have several benefits over basic listings. If anybody searches, you’ll be ranked at the top of the first page.”

Dillard is also looking for companies to advertise on the site. “We have advertising space on the front page,” he said. “And we also have space available on our listings page.”

The full-time truck driver believes his website’s listings will help to make some difference in the nation’s Black community.

“I hope this website will get more people to support Black-owned businesses,“ Dillard said. “There’s a huge racial wealth gap in this country. We need to do everything we can to build ourselves up.

Hopefully, someone will find a new eatery they never tried and go get some great tasting food.”

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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NNPA – Black Press w/ Hendriks Video Interview

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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