Despite taking financial hits due to the pandemic, small businesses around the country are donating to racial justice organizations and feeding protestors.

By Gowri Chandra
June 05, 2020
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Credit: Courtesy of Sol Sips

As we reach the tenth day of nationwide protests against the police murder of George Floyd, many restaurants and food brands are acknowledging the Black Lives Matter movement publicly for the first time. One restaurant employee, who recently walked off his job when forced to prepare food for law enforcement, put it like this: “White silence is violence." Blanket statements about equality aren’t cutting it anymore, as customers call on restaurants to acknowledge Black Lives Matter specifically and take meaningful action against police brutality.

Many restaurants have gone far beyond social media statements. Ironically, it’s the smaller, family-run establishments that appear to be giving the most. Despite taking financial hits due to the pandemic, neighborhood restaurants are donating significant funds to racial justice organizations and feeding their communities.

In Los Angeles earlier this week, Hail Mary Pizza owner David Wilcox pledged a full day’s profits to Know Your Rights Camp, Colin Kaepernick’s bail fund that provides legal defense for detained protestors. In San Francisco, Fool’s Errand wine shop and Maven restaurant both pledged a week’s worth of sales, donating to Know Your Rights Camp and George Floyd’s official memorial fund, respectively. In Atlanta, Koinonia Coffee has donated an entire month’s worth of profits to The Atlanta Solidarity Fund, and the popular plant-based restaurant Slutty Vegan has payed rent for seven struggling Black-owned businesses. In Brooklyn, Di an Di is donating all banh mi sales to Color of Change, a progressive civil rights nonprofit.

Other restaurants are supporting the movement with food, leaving packaged meals and snacks outside their restaurants for protesters. Sol Sips, a beloved Vegan restaurant Bushwick, Brooklyn, has closed temporarily to feed community members. Announced on Instagram, the "Black Supper" series offers free vegan meals of a main, beverage, and dessert for pickup from June 3 to 6. Opened by Francesca Chaney in 2018, the restaurant is accepting donations for Black Supper on Venmo (@solsipshospitality), Cashapp (solsipsNYC), and Paypal (solsipsnyc@gmail.com.)

"I'd like to stress that we’re focusing on nourishing the Black community on a whole, and it’s not exclusive to Black protesters," says Chaney. "There are many individuals I personally know who are exhausted, overwhelmed, and are losing sleep right now with all that’s happening and aren’t inherently protesting." Her intention for the series is to offer "a healing and nourishing space for all Black bodies," she says. "Living in a Black body in itself often feels like a protest."

Credit: Courtesy of Sol Sips

In Minneapolis this week, Black-owned vegan eatery Trio Plant-based gave away 300 bowls to the public, despite having suffered financially during the protests. "When it comes to Floyd, it hit harder than the pandemic," owner Louis Hunter told KARE11. "Due to the fact—I was closed way more days. Not saying financially, just emotionally." Hunter was also the cousin of Philando Castile, who was killed by a police officer in 2016.

In the past several days, Trio has been flooded with donations, finally enabling it to meet its longstanding $80,000 fundraising goal. “We want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” Hunter wrote on Facebook. “We’ve been trying to reach our goal on GoFundMe for a year now.”

Other Black-owned restaurants have also seen an uptick in financial and in-kind support. Pimento Kitchen, a Jamaican restaurant also in Minneapolis, collected and distributed medical kits, hygiene products, and bottled water to give to protesters this past week.

Some restaurants are offering paid time off to employees joining the demonstrations. JenChan’s in Atlanta is one such establishment. “I just feel incredibly passionate about this,” co-owner Emily Chan told Food & Wine. “I’m not going to choose business over people’s lives. This is just way too important, and we’ve had way too many opportunities like this to do something as a country.”

Credit: Emily Chan

Perhaps the most significant feat of solidarity, however, is business owners who stand with the protests that led to the destruction of their restaurants.

On May 29, owner Ruhel Islam woke to find that his Minneapolis restaurant had been nearly burned to ashes, the New York Times reported. The Gandhi Mahal Restaurant is less than a minute’s walk from the city’s third precinct police station, which was also set ablaze. Although it was not an insignificant setback for the family-owned business, Islam said, “Let my building burn. Justice needs to be served.”

“We can rebuild a building, but we cannot rebuild a human,” he told the New York Times. “The community is still here, and we can work together to rebuild.” Unprompted, his neighbors started a now-closed fundraiser; in just a few days, it raised over $64,000.

In Washington D.C., Michelle Brown’s restaurant was also broken into and set on fire. Insurance will not cover the damages. “It doesn’t matter how I feel. It’s not about me,” Brown told the Washingtonian. “There are 100,000 people dead. This guy had a policeman sit on his neck for nine minutes … So for me, whatever it is that we have to cope with, I feel blessed and lucky every day that I’m in confinement here.”

Credit: Jenny Love Photography

Fernay McPherson’s Oakland restaurant was not physically damaged in the protests, but her business, like many, has been further put on hold because of them. She has bigger concerns.

“I want anyone who cares to know that violence against property is nothing close to violence against people,” she wrote in an essay. “My business is the tool that I built, in my community, to make my way in this world. It has no value to me, or to anyone, if our world remains as deeply unfair and violent as it is.”