Amid ‘awakening,’ Black-owned restaurants see a boost

Many reported sales spikes in recent weeks as lists of Black-owned businesses circulate online.
Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen
Photograph courtesy of Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen

The past few months have been a roller coaster for Tommie’s Pizza in St. Paul, Minn. 

After shutting down completely in mid-March due to the coronavirus, owner Tommie Daye cautiously reopened at the beginning of May. But just as sales began to build back up, protests, riots and looting hit the city after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Tommie’s closed again for five days as many neighboring businesses were burned or looted. 

But since reopening for the second time, amid a national reckoning with race and policing, Tommie’s has been doing better than ever. 

“Yesterday was the busiest day I ever did,” Daye said Thursday. “Probably 4 to 5 times what I was doing before.”

In the past week, Tommie’s has been sending 80 to 90 pizzas each day through a slot in the front door—in as little as four hours. It’s now hiring for several positions, and Daye bought a pizza press to help with throughput. Each day has been busier than the last.

“A lady came in and bought $800 worth of gift cards. It’s just ridiculous man,” Daye said.

Other Black restaurateurs shared stories of similar sales jumps in recent days. Most said they think the boost has something to do with the lists of Black-owned restaurants that have circulated online as people look for ways to help.

“We’re really doubling [sales] right now because of the lists” compared to a couple of weeks ago, said Catarah Coleman, co-owner of Southern Girl Desserts in Los Angeles. “My goodness, we have lines out the door consistently.”

Southern Girl’s shipping orders have been up more than 75%, she said. On Wednesday, the bakery received an order for 125,000 cookies—one of its largest ever. 

For Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen, which has two locations in LA, the media attention has helped drive new customers from outside its predominantly Black communities, co-founder Ajay Relan said in an email.

“We love the support and expect that it will lead to our business growing into a destination spot when we open up completely,” he said. 

“Yesterday was the busiest day I ever did. Probably 4 to 5 times what I was doing before.” —Tommie Daye, Tommie’s Pizza

Anela Malik, a food blogger who created a list of Black-owned restaurants in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, said in an email she has heard that some were so busy last Friday they had to stop accepting orders.

“That's all anecdotal and I'm uncomfortable drawing a direct line between that and my blog post, but I do believe it has in some way helped bring attention to these businesses,” she said.

Daye said that while the lists have played a role in Tommie’s surge, he doesn’t think they’re the primary factor. He emphasized Tommie’s five-star rating on Google reviews. The restaurant’s social media channels, run by his daughter, have been getting lots of hits on their own, he said. And other restaurants in the area remain closed.

“I’m not even sure how many people even know we’re a Black-owned business,” he said. “We sell good pizza. I don’t care what color we are.”

Southern Girl, which is located in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw mall, had always been busy before COVID-19 hit, Coleman said. The bakery was able to stay open while the mall was closed, but the shutdown cut revenues in half. 

“This is all happening right in time,” she said. “We did receive PPP money, but that’s running out.”

The mall will be reopening soon, and like Tommie’s, Southern Girl is hiring again. Coleman hopes the sudden boom has staying power.

“Our hope is that not only will people come to us for what is happening right now, because of the awakening and the lists, but that they’ll turn into customers that will continue to come back to us one year from now, two years from now,” she said. 

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