How to Support Black-Owned Food Businesses

Delicious tasting menu during restaurant week at Red Rooster in Harlem.

It’s no secret in the United States that small businesses are struggling to stay open during the pandemic, and so where we spend our money matters more than ever. At the same time, we’ve also seen a growing social movement to end the systemic racism and police brutality experienced by Black people in this country. One way to help is by supporting Black-owned businesses. Admittedly this is not the only way we should help, and it’s certainly not going to solve all the problems, but it can make a difference. In this post, I’m going to highlight why this is important, how you can find Black-owned food businesses to support, and a few of my faves to date.

Why support Black owned businesses?

Really, if everyone is struggling, why make Black-owned businesses a specific priority? A few statistics for you to consider…

Design your own Africa bowls from Teranga in Harlem. On the left, free-range chicken, Ndambe (black-eyed pea stew from Senegal), and Kelewele (spicy Ghanian plantains) on Jollof rice with Yassa sauce. The dish on the right is described below.

  • A study conducted earlier this year indicated that banks may have discriminated against Black applicants for loans under the Payment Protection Program (PPP). In the study, Black applicants were offered different loan products and treated worse than white applicants who had a similar credit profile. While we don’t know how this translated into real world borrowing, it is nevertheless concerning especially because…
  • Prior research shows that only 47% of Black-owned firms who applied for bank financing were fully funded, compared to 75% of white-owned companies (there’s a more digestible summary of the report here). For those who were approved, the rate of failure to receive full financing was the highest among all categories by more than 10 percentage points. And approximately 25% of Black owners did not apply for credit for fear of being denied. This is evidence that Black owners have faced more roadblocks to accessing financing than their counterparts of other races, another reason to give our support.
  • Try something new, find something you love. By looking specifically for Black-owned food businesses, I’ve gotten to try places I might have normally overlooked and found some favorites in the process. Plus, I’ve been able to try out some new cuisines as a bonus.

How to find Black-owned restaurants

If you agree and have the means, how do you actually go about finding and supporting these businesses? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Eat Okra app. This app is designed specifically to help you find Black-owned restaurants in your area. It is limited to major metropolitan areas in the US, which makes sense given that the majority of Black-owned businesses are in cities, but if you live in or visit one of the cities it’s really quite useful.
  • Look for sites that compile lists of Black-owned businesses. This article has a ton of useful links to many types of Black-owned businesses, not just food-related. There’s so many places to check out!
  • Follow relevant accounts on Instagram. One of my favorites is Black Food Fridays, which encourages people to go to a Black-owned restaurant specifically on Fridays, but they also post mouthwatering photos throughout the week. The account is based in Charleston, South Caroline but I have seen restaurants featured from different parts of the US. You can also follow hashtags like #SupportBlackBusiness.
  • Purchase products online from Black-owned businesses. If you’re in an area where you don’t have a lot of locally Black-owned restaurants, many people are selling their food products online as well.

Shoutouts to a Few Faves

I’m lucky to live in a place that has a lot of Black-owned businesses. And the list of more places to try is growing every day! While fancy sit-down restaurants are great, I like to focus on places that you can go on a regular basis – more fast cash and less fine dining. These are 5 of my favorites to date:

  • Teranga, Harlem. Teranga means hospitality in Wolof, one of the main languages spoken in Senegal. This fast-cash spot is the make-your-own bowl concept meets African food. You can take your pick of bases and sides that represent West African cuisines from Senegal to Ghana to Nigeria.
Kelewele (spicy Ghanian plantains), Ndambe (black-eyed pea stew from Senegal), and Efo Riro (Nigerian stew with red palm oil, kale, and okra) served on a bed of Jollof rice with a side of Senegales Mafe (peanut) sauce and a Kenyan-brewed beer, all from Teranga in Harlem.
  • Ali’s Trinidad Roti Shop, Bedford-Stuyvesant. This hole-in-the-wall, order-to-go shop is one of the best values I’ve found in NYC, ever. They specialize in Trinidadian food such as doubles and pholourie. But my favorite is the vegetable roti, a wrap overflowing with potatoes, pumpkin, cabbage, spinach, carrots, chickpeas, and spices, all for $6. I still have daydreams about this roti…
  • Serengeti Teas and Spices, Harlem. This shop sells African tea, coffee, cocoa, honey, sea salts, and other specialty products. They used to serve delicious teas in store as well (see the photo below) though I’m not sure if they are currently offering this. You can also order their products online!
Giant Bissap iced tea from Serengeti Tea & Spices in Harlem
  • Le Paris Dakar, Bedford-Stuyvesant. This café features French-Senegalese cooking. You can order crepes with a side of bissap tea, plus you get to watch the crepes being made right in front of you. The decor is a mix of French and Senegalese influences and the food is always good.
  • Red Rooster, Harlem. Ok, ok, Red Rooster is definitely in a different class than other restaurants on this list, but it deserves mention anyways. This restaurant is quite well-known in NYC and in chef circles due to celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. It serves primarily soul food but often with an Ethiopian twist. I visited for a tasting menu during restaurant week, and was lucky enough to see Samuelsson there (but not quite quick enough to get photo evidence, so you’ll have to take my word for it).
Dessert from Red Rooster…yes please!

I’m going to continue exploring Black-owned restaurants in the future and I invite you to join me on this journey in my Instagram, @marissamakesfood, where I’ll have a highlight of these places.

What Black-owned businesses do you support? Where in NYC should I try next? Is there a place in your area you want to try? Let me know in the comments.

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