On the morning of the first day of Black History Month, Black restaurant owners gathered on the State House steps to both honor their successes and ask for more help from the Legislature as their businesses continue to struggle.
“Although we are still devastated by the pandemic… it’s a celebration of our resilience and it’s a celebration of our culture and our creativity,” said Nia Grace, co-chair of the Boston Black Hospitality Coalition and owner of Darryl’s Corner restaurant between the South End and Roxbury. “What we are calling on all residents and visitors to do is visit the 70-plus Black restaurants and bars in the city of Boston.”
The push to back the business is being called the Boston Black Restaurant Challenge.
State Rep. Chynah Tyler, D-Roxbury, spoke to the importance of supporting Black restaurants, especially during the pandemic.
“It isn’t only something for the foodies to be able to enjoy, but for African American families, it’s a sense of culture,” she said. “We want to be able to continue to uplift that culture, particularly now, during Black History Month.”
Tyler, joined by House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz, D-Boston, also announced two state-sponsored sources of funding for Black-owned restaurants in Massachusetts, 20% of which have closed during the pandemic, according to Grace.
One of the sources earmarks $350,000 in American Rescue Plan funds for Black-owned hospitality businesses in the Boston coalition.
The other will funnel $25 million through the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation to fund Black- and brown-owned businesses across the state who may have been passed over in previous rounds of funding.
“Our small businesses are the lifeblood of our neighborhoods, of our state,” Michlewitz said. “This money is going to be critical to bringing some of those businesses back to where they were pre-COVID.”
Grace worried that the funds directed to the coalition still may not be enough, given how quickly past support programs have run out.
Referencing the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program and Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which distributed billions across the country, and hundreds of thousands to individual businesses, “you have to know that $350,000 is not going to go far,” she said.
Mika Winder, who recently opened The Pearl in Dorchester, said she’s struggled, especially during the winter months, to make ends meet.
“We have had to pay our staff more to keep them so that’s part of it, you know, being able to pay them living wages, which is always part of our game plan,” she said. “But with the price of food going up, things really didn’t balance out the way that we had hoped.”