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The exterior of the restaurant Melba’s in Harlem which has a red awning in the front

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‘Our Fight as a Community Isn’t Singular, It Is Inclusive’

Lists of black-owned restaurants are circulating this week, and while owners recognize the protests are focused on police brutality, many say the move is exposing New Yorkers to a wider-swath of black-owned restaurants

Black-owned restaurants like Melba’s in Harlem say online lists highlighting such places across the city are an encouraging sign
| Melba’s [Official]

Lists highlighting a wide-swath of black-owned restaurants across the five boroughs have been making the rounds on social media following the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota and the protests that have gripped the nation in the aftermath. While many restaurant owners on the list acknowledge that the focus of the protests is police brutality, many say the guides have been an encouraging push to support black-owned restaurants that don’t typically get any attention.

Though there are plenty of black-owned restaurants in New York, black restaurateurs face far more hurdles due to systemic racism: It can be harder to raise money, and many don’t have resources to pay for social media managers or pricey public relations firms, which tend to be luxuries.

“Our fight as a community isn’t singular, it is inclusive,” Melba Wilson, the owner of Harlem soul-food spot Melba’s, writes in an email. “One issue does not take away from another and just as all injustices show themselves simultaneously, they can all be addressed simultaneously.”

The restaurant lists — including one covering businesses across the city, and another Queens-specific one — started making the rounds last weekend. This past week, several black-owned restaurants on those lists noted an uptick in sales.

At Crown Heights newcomer the Bergen, online support has translated to as much as a 15 to 20 percent increase in sales, according to owner Ty Brown. Ras Plant Based, a new vegan Ethiopian restaurant in the same neighborhood, also reported a significant uptick in orders after appearing in an online feature by Black Owned Brooklyn. The digital publication promoting black businesses has also been spotlit on social media this past week, and in turn driven attention to more black-owned business, including restaurants.

Others like Lower East Side’s Cheeky Sandwiches noted that last Tuesday was one of their busiest days since the start of the pandemic, and sommelier André Mack — who also owns a Prospect Lefferts Garden bar named & Sons — says orders at his wine delivery company Maison Noir Wines have been “almost too much to keep up with,” after it appeared on black-owned business lists.

But owners are cautious to connect this uptick in sales solely with the circulation of these lists. Many of the businesses that have seen higher sales are relatively new and don’t have previous data to compare, and others say the boost could also be related to the wave of restaurants that have been reopening for takeout and delivery after initially shutting down in March.

“It’s hard, because you don’t know where it’s coming from,” says Romeo Regalli, the co-owner of Ras Plant Based. “For us, though, it’s definitely picked up from last week.”

Ruby’s Vintage Harlem
Ruby’s Vintage, in Harlem, has seen no impact on sales, but the owners say the lists are important tools.
Ruby’s Vintage Harlem [Official]

Still, restaurant owners are glad the lists are circulating, even in places where there hasn’t been an impact on sales. In Harlem, Melba’s, Ruby’s Vintage, and Belle all reported no change in sales, yet owners say the lists are helping bring attention to black-owned businesses — particularly ones without a strong social media presence.

“The more people see it, the more they know who to support right now,” says Brian Washington Palmer, the chef and co-owner of Ruby’s Vintage. “And lists like this are definitely a great idea.”

For Wilson, the current climate also allows her to use her strong social media presence to amplify other black voices, she says. “Having a strong social media presence is a phenomenal tool that can help generate business,” Wilson says. “I feel that business owners who have the ears of the masses, including myself, have a responsibility to support and stand up for businesses that do not.”

It’s too soon to tell if these lists and the online support will lead to people continuing to support black-owned businesses in the longterm, the owners say. The past week, though, has been encouraging.

“We’ve been getting a lot of support lately,” says Melissa Brown, co-owner of Fort Greene’s Imani Kitchen and Bar. “I don’t know if that’s based on people supporting black-owned business right now, but we’ll take it, however it comes.”

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