Were you heartbroken when your favorite restaurant closed, and then ecstatic when it reopened, only to be traumatized when it closed again? If that is how you feel, imagine what the owner behind the counter is going through. I didn’t understand myself until I met Chef Russell Jackson.
This was back in March, in the early days of our new Zoom reality, and I was there to inform Jackson, the owner of the Harlem restaurant Reverence, that his business was one of the first recipients of Hello Alice’s $10,000 Covid-19 Business for All Emergency grant program to help small businesses through the pandemic. These calls are always emotional, but he seemed at a loss for words. Russell paused for a moment before turning to call his wife and son into the camera frame. “This is our motivation,” he told me, looking down at his child sitting in his lap.
That was when I truly understood that giving this restaurant an emergency grant was not just about a business keeping its doors open. It was about helping to preserve the Jackson family’s commitment to their community and to one another.
The truth is that it’s easy to forget the ripple effects of a business closing, particularly when it comes to the food, beverage, and restaurant industry. Think of all the chefs, servers, suppliers, delivery workers, and countless others who make this sector hum. Not only is the small-business owner at risk — so are all those whom their business supports, a workforce largely composed of people of color.
The numbers suggest that there are many, many Jackson families currently at risk. According to anonymous owner data gathered from more than 10,000 Hello Alice owners from the food, beverage, and restaurant industry, 82 percent said they have experienced reduced sales because of social distancing efforts. Fully 89 percent of this population asked for emergency grants ranging from $10,000 to $25,000, with more than a third estimating that this amount would be the difference between surviving Covid-19 or not. We’re still analyzing this data in more detail for a forthcoming Impact Report, but the message is clear: These small-business owners need our help right now.
For industry leaders, here are four important action items to help you.
1. Apply for grants.
My company, Alice, just announced the first 15 winners of the annual Stacy’s Rise Project, an initiative from PepsiCo that supports female-founded businesses. Each owner will receive a $10,000 grant in addition to four months of executive mentorship and marketing assistance. The company is also dedicating an additional $150,000 to another 15 Black female founders who will be announced in September. Applications for the Hello Alice Business for All grant, which offers exclusive mentorship opportunities and grants of up to $50,000 to support long-term business growth, remain open.
I’d also recommend the Southern Smoke Foundation’s Emergency Relief Fund, which offers funding to individuals in the food, beverage, and restaurant industry who are in crisis, and the Red Backpack Fund, which offers $5,000 grants to female entrepreneurs.
2. Strengthen your business operations.
Focus on keeping the doors open, yes, but now is the time to also master distribution, marketing, packaging, logistics, and other business fundamentals that will pay off for years to come.
Join small business owners from August 10 to 28 for a free business sprint that will help you to learn from step-by-step guides on topics like diversification of product lines, manufacturing channels, and everything you need to know about food and beverage distribution. Expert mentors will be there to answer any questions, and owners will be able to tap into the wisdom of thousands of fellow entrepreneurs. Anyone can sign up for the upcoming event, or hop into the WomanMade Community — a purpose-built forum for female founders in the food and beverage industry — for support right away.
3. Consult industry groups.
In times like these, it’s best to look to the experts, like those at the National Restaurant Association, to keep track of reopening protocols. The Consumer Brands Association also offers comprehensive guidance on new safety measures in food manufacturing and more. It also has continued giving programs in partnership with Guy Fieri.
4. Learn from your peers.
Based on feedback from thousands of small business owners, Hello Alice relaunched our Covid-19 Business Resource Center to offer industry-specific resources, how-to guides, and peer communities targeted at bot restaurant and food services and food and beverage industries.
The next time you get hungry, think about the critical role restaurant, food, and beverage small-business owners play in our lives. Help spread education, mentorship, and community support for entrepreneurs like Russell Jackson.