A fter a long-overdue social awakening across the U.S. in 2020, people came together to support Black-owned businesses and restaurants — this was especially true in Charleston, where Black Food Fridays founder K.J. Kearney rallied social media support by asking followers to dine at or order from a Black-owned restaurant each week and share photos.
The extra business was essential at a time when Black-owned restaurants were being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, due in part to less access to federal PPP loans and systemic wealth disparities that existed before the pandemic. Still, several Black-owned restaurants were among those that closed, and more could follow.
Social media posts, lists of Black-owned restaurants and details about how to help can raise awareness, but only the owners of these establishments know the true impact. We asked seven Black restaurant owners to reflect on the complicated 13-plus months since the onset of the pandemic last spring.
Nathan and Chasity Brown, Daddy’s Girls Bakery owners
Daddy’s Girls Bakery opened on Jan. 1, 2021 in North Charleston at 2021B Reynolds Ave., after building a local following with its Charleston International Airport kiosk, stand at the Charleston Farmers Market and booth at the downtown Charleston Night Market on Market Street.
“It’s been going pretty well—we’ve been slammed busy,” Chasity said. “A lot of people in the community have stopped by and said that they either live or work in the area.”
When asked if the call to support Black-owned businesses has helped grow their following, Chasity said, “I think it has. I have kind of seen a more diverse customer base.”
“I’m not sure if it’s because of the political stance or having just opened,” Nathan said. “We are Black business owners, but we kind of look at ourselves as a bakery first. Business is business. We want to be in the conversations with the Kaminsky’s and the Saffrons, not just the Black-owned businesses.”
Nathan said that “just exploring, trying new restaurants and giving them a chance” is the best way to continue to support Black-owned restaurants. “If I’m not around a lot of Black people, I probably won’t try Black-owned restaurants,” he said. “Be open to different people and open to conversations.”
Rodney Scott, Rodney Scott’s BBQ owner
“The support has been amazing this year with a lot of local, smaller Black businesses being recognized. Of course we’ve had a great year due to the Netflix [Chef’s Table] release and because we had a drive-thru. I’ve personally seen an increase in local visitors … A lot of people who weren’t traveling far and with a lot of people being closed, they utilized the few of us that did stay open. Not only did this year recognize people like myself, but it gave the chance for people to get mentioned for the first time.”
When asked what more can be done to continue the support for Black-owned restaurants, Scott said, “Communicate more, have conversations, go back to that old word-of-mouth advertising again to find out where all the good little spots are. That’s been my thing. That would help a lot with up-and-coming people and the whole Charleston food and beverage community.”
Ragina Saunders, Destiny Community Cafe owner
“We’re a community cafe, so I wouldn’t want to compare it to a for-profit restaurant. But, we get a diversity from all cultures, and we’re even starting to translate our stuff into Spanish as well. As far as support, we could use more. We’re a nonprofit, so we run off the community chipping in.”
Quan Myers, Quan’s BBQ owner
“When I reopened in late January (2021), I decided to switch over to barbecue with the Southern fixins. I promote on Facebook, so I
mean, the community and people who are not in the community come in as well,” said Myers, who has received additional customers on Mondays thanks to a Facebook group called Melanated Money Mondays, which makes a “conscious effort to spend dollars with people of color and/or businesses/people that support a change in our nation’s inequality” on Mondays.
“I have gotten business from that, people who told me they saw it,” Myers said.
Brooks Harrison, East Side Soul Food owner
“We had a lot of new customers and faces, and I feel like it did help and push, especially during the beginning months. A lot of the new customers, they pretty much stopped in once, twice, three times a week, and it’s definitely been a big boost in that aspect. The retention has always been there, but the influx makes you feel better about the product and service.”
Nigel Drayton, Nigel’s Good Food,
Nigel’s Good Food II and The Slaughter House BBQ & Brew owner
“We’ve gotten new exposure, but at the same time I think it’s just the fact of more people coming to Charleston. Some of the older customers we have, they’re afraid to come out as much, so it’s definitely affected us. Even before COVID hit, we added takeout because we’re such a small place,” said Drayton, who opened the Slaughter House — his third restaurant — in September 2019.
“We were waiting for the summer time to kick in, and we missed that mark last year because of COVID. For a new business, we’re doing OK, and it’s actually doing a little better than when I first opened my first restaurant. I’m waiting to see what it can really do.”
This time next year, Drayton will have a fourth restaurant in Hanahan, a project that was stalled due to COVID-19.
Odies Turner, Pablo’s Kitchen owner
“Being Black, the climate wants to see more support, and that has driven a lot of support for me,” said Turner, a College of Charleston graduate who started his own catering company in July 2020.
“If you go to the bigger cities like Atlanta, you see a lot more of the prominent Black chefs. I’d say in Charleston, what I’ve learned is that there are not a lot of private chefs who are marketing,” said Turner, who believes social media helped him quickly gain a following. “I think that’s what has led to my success.”