The culture of American food is a fusion of diverse ethnic groups from all parts of the world. A cornerstone of this culture is undeniably African American cuisine. From Soul Food to Afro-Caribbean to Creole, African American food is firmly rooted in the national restaurant industry. But even though its history hits the flavor points of a bitter past, there is a very sweet future for the African American restaurant industry.
The history of African Americans in the food and restaurant world is filled with Jim Crow laws and systemic racial discrimination. So, while African Americans were not allowed to dine freely, their food was widely and voraciously consumed by all Americans. After 400 years of institutional injustice, and as a reaction to racial segregation in public spaces, the wave of restaurant sit-ins of the 1950s and 1960s and prominent African Americans such as Edna Lewis were major catalysts to industry transformation. Although this change was incremental, the revolution had begun.
By the late-2000s, the restaurant industry began to lead the way in black-owned business growth. From 2007 to 2012, black ownership in the restaurant industry increased by 49%. Whereas black ownership of all U.S. businesses only increased by 35%
In 2020 African Americans represented 8% of restaurant owners. Coming from a year that spurred public protests for racial equality and change, this number may seem small. But small ripples make great waves. Today, we are certainly seeing waves of change beginning to flow in the industry for aspiring black entrepreneurs.
Recipes For Change In The African American Restaurant Industry
Very few things in this world unite us more than food. Food is for the soul. And feeding the soul of aspiring black restaurateurs are several incredible initiatives, restaurant industry leaders, and business & employment solutions.
“Pathways to Black Franchise Ownership” – a collab between Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance, 4thMVMT, and PepsiCo – is one example of this change. Their goal is to increase business ownership opportunities for African Americans in the restaurant industry. They plan to do this by creating 100 black-owned franchise restaurants by 2022. And part of their plan is to inspire other leading franchises and companies to join them in growing the number of African American business owners.
Rising To Success
As a successful restaurant franchisee and CEO of 4thMVMT, Karim Webb has been paving the way forward for aspiring black restaurateurs. Citing access to capital as a big issue, 4thMVMT has its sights set on growing black-owned businesses. The aim is to educate and help black entrepreneurs tackle obstacles they encounter in the quest for business ownership. Securing capital for down payments, obtaining traditional financing, and not knowing about conventional banking alternatives are some of the problems Webb is looking to solve.
With a James Beard Foundation Award for the best new restaurant to her name, Chef Mashama Bailey has had an inspiring journey. After turning a former Jim Crow segregated Greyhound station into a wildly successful restaurant, The Grey, Bailey has devoted her career to bringing attention to Southern food and culture in America. Sitting as chairwoman for The Edna Lewis Foundation, Bailey continues to promote the celebration, preservation, and revival of African American cuisine.
A Gigitized Solution
As unemployment levels have risen dramatically thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the African American population was one of the worst-hit groups in America. At 6.3% African American workers suffered the highest unemployment rate in the country in 2020. However, there is a silver lining to this bleak situation. Enter the independent workforce and gig economy solution. Platforms that stimulate the gig economy have become key to providing employment opportunities to many. Especially hard-hit groups like African Americans. Take for example the ShiftPixy Ecosystem. An innovative approach to human capital combined with sophisticated technology deployment. ShiftPixy balances the needs of business operators, who rely on part-time labor, and workers who make up the part-time workforce.
The restaurant industry is set to be a principal player in the future of African American business owners. Even amid a global pandemic, an exciting era is rising for African Americans in the restaurant arena.