Black owned businesses cope during the COVID-19 pandemic
Black owned businesses cope during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mark Vergari, Rockland/Westchester Journal News
COVID-19 put pressures on Black business owners as they strategized about how to keep their livelihoods afloat in the choppy waters of the pandemic.
There are more than a dozen Black-owned businesses in southern Westchester County, where there has been a growing COVID-19 number of cases. While the pandemic threw challenges their way, for Black-owned businesses in the food and drink space, it also presented some opportunities.
Having recently wrapped up Black Business Month in August, a couple of those eateries in Mount Vernon and Yonkers are starting to see recognition in their communities by taking advantage of those opportunities.
“I was worried about not being able to open,” Estrado Willis, owner of Mangoville Meat Market Inc. in Mount Vernon, said about keeping his business operating through the pandemic. “COVID-19 helped my business grow because people were buying more food than they did before. When a lot of other restaurants were closed I was open, so my traffic started to increase.”
According to the United States Census Bureau, Blacks or African Americans owned approximately 124,551 businesses in 2021. Among them is Mangoville, home to authentic Jamaican cuisine in Mount Vernon. The black and white color-themed storefront sits on South Fourth Avenue as a symbol of the Black-owned restaurant.
Willis was born and raised in Jamaica, where he developed his love for food. In 2011, Mangoville opened its doors to Mount Vernon, serving traditional Jamaican meals. With crispy fried chicken, fresh seafood, and chicken soup being their popular foods, Mangoville welcomed new customers during the pandemic.
“You enjoy seeing people taste your food and people liking your food. When people say, Mangoville restaurant is great and they like the ambiance, I enjoy that,” Willis said. “I started to see new customers and everything was selling. The line was to the door.”
Charmaine Sanchez and Donte Charlton, the couple behind Bougie Brews in Yonkers, saw a similar response at their coffee shop.
“Little by little people noticed we were there. We were served by the door because we couldn’t let people in. September and October were really nice for us,” Charlton said.
The pandemic came with its share of business hardships, though, particularly for Black owners. As COVID-19 added strains on businesses, its impact on financial security only added a dreadful weight to Black business owners.
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The pandemic struck Black-owned businesses hard; the volumes of COVID cases coincide with Black-owned business locations, according to an August 2020 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, two-thirds of counties with high levels of Black business activity pre-COVID were in the top 50 COVID-affected areas nationally.
In 2019 58% of Black-owned small businesses were at financial risk or distressed, and almost half of Black business owners were no longer in business by 2020, according to the report.
Those circumstances did not seem any more promising once the pandemic hit and restaurants were closed for dine-in seating. Takeout and delivery was the new system for restaurants to make a profit during the mandated shutdown.
Food delivery services such as Grubhub, Uber Eats, Seamless, and DoorDash became third-party resources for restaurants. The delivery services also began to highlight areas with Black-owned restaurants, helping push them through the pandemic.
The owners of Bougie Brews in Yonkers were determined to be one of the Black businesses that kept their doors open by turning their passion project into reality.
Sanchez and Charlton had been planning Bougie Brews for the last two years. With Sanchez’s love for coffee and with a lack of coffee shops, at the time, in downtown Yonkers, Sanchez turned the opportunity into a business plan. The longtime couple hosted a potluck that brought light to her idea and gave her the motivation to finally bring Bougie Brews to existence.
Even with financial pressures, Bougie Brews opened its doors in June 2020. The coffee and tea shop shows love for art, music, culture, and most importantly to coffee lovers. Drawing its customers in by their community-centered shop, Bougie Brews has been paving its way through the pandemic by simply serving good coffee.
“We have the first coffee house in the area,” Charlton said. “One thing I told Charmaine, co-owner of Bougie Brews, is ‘the one way we can get over on a lot of stuff is control what we are able to control. What we can control is how good everything tastes,”
Locals began to notice. Serving special lattes, teas, chai drinks, pastries, and breakfast items, Bougie Brews began to make its mark on Main Street. Two of their most popular drinks are the Bougie butter chai — a combination of butterscotch syrup, chai, and steamed milk — and the Anthony Perkins, which is half peach tea and half mint lemonade.
Flavored lemonades, including coconut, kiwi, mango, green apple and mint, are also customer favorites. The shop also offers breakfast items and brunch on the weekends.
“I honestly didn’t think we would open this soon,” Charlton said. “I was worried about our home rent…The next thing I was worried about was people’s fears of interaction. It was really crazy, I think everyone was paranoid and super cautious. So we were thinking, will people be willing to come even if we had everything set up at the door…No one really knows us.”
As the coffee boutique settles into Yonkers, Bougie Brews is ready to welcome in the fall with its seasonal drinks. These drinks include their pumpkin spice lattes, caramel apple chai’s, ciders, and seasonal pastries will be an addition to the menu.
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