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Teni East Kitchen, a Burmese restaurant in Oakland, California.
Teni East Kitchen, a Burmese restaurant in Oakland, California.
Courtesy of Tiyobestia Shibabaw

If you walked into Teni East Kitchen in Oakland, California, before March, you’d have smelled the Burmese restaurant’s coconut shrimp curry and perhaps sampled dishes like the signature pea shoot salad. But when the coronavirus hit California, the Michelin Bib Gourmand-awarded restaurant closed except for pickup and delivery, and sales — based on serving around 150 customers on a good night — dropped about 90%, says Tiyobestia Shibabaw, the founder and chef.

Then in early June something happened that shocked Shibabaw and her staff: business picked back up about 70%. In part because of the surge in sales for the first week and half in June, Shibabaw was able to hire back two employees she had to furlough when business was slow.

“I was doubling and tripling orders and distributors were saying, ‘What’s going on?’,” says Shibabaw. “It’s just really encouraging to see the support and it helps a lot.”

Shibabaw attributes the majority of the upswing to calls to support Black-owned businesses. The restaurant was included in several articles and social media posts about Black-owned restaurants in the Bay Area.

The movement has significantly picked up since protests began over the high-profile police killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day. Google searches for “Black-owned businesses near me” surged in early June. Social media users have taken to Twitter and Instagram with hashtags like #SupportBlackOwnedBusinesses and #BuyBlack to share recommendations for their favorite Black-owned businesses. Applications that highlight these businesses have seen more downloads. Support also took the form of a boycott called Blackout Day on July 7.

Yet while owners are seeing the support turn into sales, there’s a concern that the trend won’t last. So advocates stress that it's important to remember the systemic challenges Black business owners have historically faced, and to shop with intention over the long haul.

Why It’s Important to Support Black-Owned Businesses

A push for increased patronization of Black-owned businesses is a push for equity, says Yemi Rose, founder of OfColor, a platform launching in the fall that's focused on closing the racial wealth gap.

“Non-minority businesses have an unfair advantage,” Rose says. “We need to consciously work to tip the scales if only to achieve equity.”

Starting a small business and making it a success is hard for anyone. But Black business owners have faced additional barriers for years when it comes to getting loans, investments, recognition and more.

They report more challenges with credit availability or getting funds to grow than non-minority-owned businesses, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. This is even the case for businesses with revenues over $1 million. And while Black-owned small businesses see application rates for new funding at 10 percentage points higher than white-owned ones, their approval rates are 19 percentage points lower, the authors said. (This inequity reared its head prominently during the pandemic. Black and Hispanic small-business owners have struggled to access federal relief measures like the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program, according to a recent survey conducted by Global Strategy Group for Color Of Change and UnidosUS.)

Naturally, this has made some Black business owners assume they won't get the loans (and therefore, not even apply). Of Black business owners surveyed by the Federal Reserve who did not apply for financing, 40 percent said they didn’t think they would be approved.

“You can look exactly the same as a white-owned business but you’d be denied more often if you were a Black-owned business,” says Gary Cunningham, the CEO of Prosperity Now, a non-profit organization focused on closing the racial wealth divide.

There is also a lack of access on the private sector side. According to a report from RateMyInvestor and DiversityVC, just 1% of founders backed by venture capital firms are Black.

All of this impacts jobs in the Black community. The Black unemployment rate has almost always been twice as high as the white unemployment rate since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting it in 1972.

“Oftentimes, supporting a Black-owned business means they are able to grow their business and able to hire within their community,” says Mandy Bowman, the founder and CEO of Official Black Wall Street, an app and digital platform to find Black-owned businesses.

These businesses also face challenges from gentrification, in which wealthier, white people move in and new businesses cater to their tastes. Bowman, who grew up in Brooklyn, says the Black business owners there were like distant aunts and uncles.

“This is like your extended family in some neighborhoods,” she adds. Seeing their decline with the rise of gentrification has made her want to support these businesses even more. “They’re community staples.”

All of these factors make it less likely that a Black business owner has had a family member that has worked in business as well — and familiarity with the business world increases one's chances of business success, Cunningham says. If a business owner runs into a problem with financing, for example, they have a significant advantage if they can turn to a parent or grandparent who has navigated a similar issue. Someone who hasn't watched a business grow in their family, or who doesn't have a community of business owners to call on, may be on their own and more likely to struggle. Black families are about half as likely to own a business as white families, according to a study from the Federal Reserve. So they need to find help elsewhere, which can cost extra time or money, or both.

“There’s a need for additional technical support, assistance and trusted guidance for Black businesses to be successful,” Cunningham says. This includes access to education that can help them improve their credit scores and improve their business skills.

Overall, seeking out Black-owned businesses is not "about giving anyone an unfair advantage, but instead removing one that was intentionally set in motion a long time ago,” Rose says. “We need to be equally as intentional in setting things right.”

How to Find Black-Owned Businesses

Bowman’s app Official Black Wall Street lists close to 6,000 Black-owned businesses across the country, from banks to cleaning services to pharmacies. There are many other apps with searchable directories of Black-owned businesses. Need a plumber or dentist? Where U Came From can help you find one in your area specifically. Did reading about Shibabaw’s Burmese food make you hungry? EatOkra will help you find Black-owned restaurants. If you're not sure exactly how to conduct your search, Support Black Owned has several options, including ways to sift through categories and businesses within your state, or to search by keyword.

Maybe you have a specific product in mind. Check out an online marketplace like WeBuyBlack where you can search for items individually or by category.

Or you can start with social media. Hashtags like #SupportBlackOwnedBusinesses, #SupportBlackBusiness, #BuyBlack and #BlackOwnedBusinesses can bring you directly to the people behind these businesses. It’s also a good way to find out which businesses other shoppers are enjoying.

If you’re looking to support Black business owners in your own community — or in a place you’re visiting — check out local resources. Black-Owned Brooklyn, for example, shares stories of Black-owned businesses in the borough. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, has businesses listed in categories like entertainment, retail and dining.

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