Violet Francis began serving friends, cooking up huge dishes of Caribbean cuisine in the kitchen of her local church. At first, she struggled to secure a business loan, before eventually succeeding and opening her own restaurant in 2013.
Business never really exploded at Auntie Vie restaurant and bakery, until last year, when Francis said more people – including a lot more white people – started to come forward and ask how to support his. small black-owned restaurant in Dorchester. New customers order fried Johnny Cakes, goat stew, jerk chicken, coconut turnovers, salted fish patties and other dishes from his hometown of Montserrat, a small island in the British West Indies.
“A conversation that has taken place, especially with, you know, Black Lives Matter, and a lot of people have come and tried to support us here,” said Francis, 66. “I think they really want to support us. They want to see us thrive in the community.
The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis a year ago shed light on racial inequality in all its forms, including business. The resulting conversation about breed changed where many consumers spent their money. Yelp searches for black-owned businesses across the country jumped 3,085% from February 2020 to February 2021, according to data analysis by Yelp.
Advocacy around consumer spending has also resumed – the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts released a list of local black businesses to support, and the message of supporting the black community through spending has been echoed at local demonstrations and rallies in honor of Floyd over the past year. Black business owners like Auntie Vie’s, Obosa Restaurant in Roslindale, Fusion Dolls in Brockton, Tiana Bay Boutiques in Canton, Happy Beans Coffee Roasters in Framingham and Trillfit, a fitness studio in Roxbury, told GBH News that the support additional had kept them afloat, offsetting the financial blow of the pandemic.
“When you take the necessary steps to help someone who is a small business, I think that’s what it is,” Francis said. “Not just to talk, but to actually walk, to actually see some action behind what you are saying.”
Jae’Da Turner, founder and managing director of marketing agency Black Owned Bos., Said continued efforts to support local entrepreneurs of color are not just about doing the right thing.
“It’s not just about supporting a business because it is black owned. That’s never the point, ”Turner said. “It’s about creating these touch points for visibility, especially in a place like Boston, where it’s extremely isolated.”
Earlier this month, Black owned Bos. launched the first in a series of outdoor markets this summer in Boston’s predominantly white Seaport neighborhood. The goal, said Turner, is to introduce tourists and residents to local black-owned stores like Ankhara By Luciana, an interior design company run by Luciana Daily, which said it has also received more support this year.
“I know my community loves my job. I know my family loves my job, “Daily said,” but for someone outside the community to come and say, not only will I be supporting you, but, you know, you have a great product and you refer me. then for the other clients, it was humiliating. “
Daily says the movement to support black-owned small businesses like his has been validated and has expanded its network beyond its Mission Hill neighborhood.
“It makes businesses and white America reconsider our presence in spaces like Wellesley, Needham or Newton, where, I mean you don’t see a lot of us there,” she said. .
Black-owned Bos turner. said events such as foreign markets are part of a larger effort to tackle systemic racism in business.
“This systemic problem is coming from a number of different places,” she said. Maybe it’s loans, maybe it’s just access to mentors, maybe it’s access to opportunities or just role models, or access to capital, which is probably the biggest obstacle for black-owned businesses. “
Earlier this month, the Boston Foundation published a series of recommendations to improve access to capital for black-owned businesses in Massachusetts, where 18% of entrepreneurs are people of color – but 10% of small business loans go to predominantly colored neighborhoods, according to the foundation Capital color report.
“The pandemic has shed light on how entrepreneurs of color are under-capitalized, under-invested and vulnerable, in large part because of systemic barriers,” the report said. “Even government assistance programs aimed at reaching entrepreneurs of color and other underserved groups have been unevenly distributed.”
The report highlights the disparities in access to capital. In Massachusetts, the foundation estimates that the annual unmet demand for capital among entrepreneurs of color is at least $ 574 million.
Entrepreneurs of color are less likely than white entrepreneurs to receive external funding, and black-owned small businesses are twice as likely as white not to receive the funding they seek, according to the foundation’s report .
This is what prompted entrepreneurs TJ and Hadley Douglas to rely on their own funding when they started their wine merchant, Urban Grape, in 2009.
“We have emptied our 401ks. We have drained our savings, ”said Douglas. “We took out a second mortgage on our house.”
When he first tried to get a business loan, Douglas was told it was too risky. At the time, he said he had accepted it and kept moving forward.
“But, you know, over the years, and especially last year, I look back on all the different times in my life, and I’m like… eh,” said Douglas. “I think it’s because I’m a minority.”
Douglas said that last year the store’s revenue increased by about 65% – with a wider range of city and state customers starting to shop at the store.
“We have so many more customers,” he said, “and the demographics of people walking in and out of the store and shopping online and the areas of Massachusetts we now ship to are totally different from what we do. ‘they were a year ago. . “
The Urban Grape website now offers collections of wines made by people of color, LGBTQ winemakers and women winemakers. Last summer, Douglas launched the Urban Grape Wine Studies Prize to bring color students into the world of predominantly white wine.
Not everyone was happy with the change, he noted.
“We’ve lost customers – that doesn’t even compare to how many customers we’ve gained – but we’ve lost some because they’re like, you know, I just want to come and buy wine. I don’t mean you’re black or that you’re female or, you know, anything like that, ”Douglas said. “And I’m like, ‘OK, great. You don’t need to be in my world. ”
It looks like the world is getting bigger, through a gradual change that could mean new business for places like Auntie Vie in Dorchester.
Violet Francis said she still hasn’t reached the point of making a profit – but she’s hoping the current movement can get her there.
“If they keep coming, then we’ll get to this point, that’s where we hope to go,” she said. “I hope for more support from the community and as the password goes on I will be able to go beyond just support but be successful.