Feature photo: Downtown local restaurant, Black Cafe. Photo obtained from Black Cafe’s Facebook page.
While some Black businesses had to completely shut down because of COVID-19, three local, Black-owned businesses shared how they stayed afloat through the pandemic.
Black-owned businesses were reported to have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. Black business owners had to close down by 41%, according to a study by the Stanford Institute of Economic Policy Research (SIEPR).
Before the pandemic, there were about 1.1 million Black businesses, and by April 2020 the number dropped to 640,000.
Nationally, restaurants in general experienced a decline of 22%, even though some remained opened. Many small business closures were permanent due to the inability to pay ongoing expenses and surviving the shutdown.
With Black people representing roughly 13% of the U.S. population and 32% in Louisiana, the success of small Black businesses plays a major part in strengthening local communities. There are currently over 40 Black-owned restaurants in the Acadiana area.
In the early days of the pandemic, support movements such as “#supportblackbusinesses,” “social injustice awareness” and “#blackouttuesday” provided a push towards supporting more Black businesses, especially locally.
Black Cafe – Downtown Lafayette, LA
Tremayne Ware, 44, is the owner of coffee shop, breakfast and brunch restaurant, Black Cafe.
Ware said he has been the owner of Black Cafe for seven years in the Downtown Lafayette area. His restaurant is a standard coffee shop that serves burgers, pastries, sandwiches and more. It is also a meeting space for business people with consultants or clients.
“When the pandemic hit, our business was cut in half about 60%, so the fact that we weren’t bringing in the revenue like we had been and rent and bills did not go away, we trimmed the staffing a little bit,” Ware said. “All the fees and monthly dues, that got hard.”
Organizations such as “ShopBlacklisted” and Downtown Lafayette Unlimited, provided promotions to help keep local businesses from failing, Ware said.
“The promotions and people just trying to raise awareness for our business helped see us through because that first month was really challenging,” he said.
Ware said he managed Olde Tyme Grocery and CC’s Coffee House for about six and a half years before he became the owner of Black Cafe.
“When I opened up Black Cafe, it was kind of like make your own systems by learning from trial and error,” he said. “So, adjust yourself to it and let go of whatever is holding you back… in order to make your business successful.”
In early stages of the pandemic, the Black community was pushing and supporting more Black businesses, according to Ware.
“There were some people who weren’t even of color and were making a point to drive their friends in it. They would make them come with them. It was a positive net gain for us as far as business is concerned,” Ware said.
Ware said his passion for owning and striving to be successful in his business comes from his children.
“When I was growing up, I grew up in poverty so I wanted to do something to where they would be proud and also contribute to the community,” he said.
Divine Cakes and Sweets Boutique, LLC – Youngsville, LA
Lynore Harding is the owner of bakery and cupcake shop, Divine Cakes and Sweets Boutique, LLC.
Harding started her business about four and half years ago when a friend asked her to start baking again because she wanted to partner with her, she said. She said her baking days were over, but the friend “asked [her] to pray about it and see where God leads [her.]” In about two weeks, Harding said she decided to start baking again and her friends and family supported her.
Female businesses reduced from 5.4 million to 4 million during the early days of the pandemic.
“The biggest struggle I had [due to the pandemic] were clients having to cancel or postpone their big events such as weddings,” according to Harding. “On the flip side Covid was really good because I decided to bring out something I haven’t made in about 3 years, which was my sweet potato pies.”
“I figured it would bring comfort to people at the time that we were living in,” Harding said.
Harding said she provided specials, free delivery, and followed the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines to make it easier for her customers.
According to Harding, one of her “driving factors” for a successful business is staying consistent in the community’s eye and having her customers write a review so she can post it.
“When my friend asked me to start baking, I was being a stay at home mom with my two children,” Harding said. “So it kind of helped me bring in a new revenue while being a stay at home mom.”
“I consider myself to be a cake artist and when I create my pieces I try to get as much information I can from my clients so that the pieces I create for my clients represent them,” Harding said.
Juice’d – Lafayette, LA
Latosha Cage is the co-owner of Juice’d with her husband Ronnie Cage Jr.
Juice’d is a local pop-up shop that serves cold-pressed, 100% organic fruit and vegetable juice.
Cage started her business because she said juicing helped her to lose 49 pounds; she was also on the verge of being pre-diabetic and potentially having high blood pressure. Cage said she has been juicing for about two years and her business just gained exposure when the pandemic started.
Cage and her husband both have full time jobs and own Juice’d as a side business. Cage said she is a full-time educator in the Lafayette Parish School System (LPSS) and her husband works for a chemical plant.
When school educators worked remotely, Cage took advantage of the opportunity to put her all into their business, she said.
“The uncertainty of having a stable income just pushed her business more,” according to Cage.
“I started doing pop-up shops, curbside delivery and drop offs because people wanted more convenience,” Cage said.
“Black businesses definitely need exposure, consistency, support and the advertisement. Just to be aware of what it is. Don’t be shy in your business,” Cage said. “Be a purpose on purpose.”