ATLANTA — Nearly 16,000 restaurants across the country have permanently closed because of the pandemic. And a new study shows Black-owned businesses are shutting down twice as fast.
A 10-year-old Atlanta staple was almost one of them.
“When I talk about the pandemic, I hear people talk about those with pre-existing conditions are the ones that are hit hardest by the actual virus. As a Black-owned business with very limited access to capital, you have a pre-existing condition," said Will Turner, owner of the Atlanta-based food truck Blaxican. “Our chances of survival were a lot slimmer.”
Turner’s owned the food truck Blaxican for 10 years. In 2016, he opened a physical restaurant. Four years later, the restaurant became a pandemic causality.
“We had to close our doors for four months with no revenue," said Turner.
And while he received a Paycheck Protection Program loan of about $2,500, it wasn't enough to pay his staff or rent increases on the physical restaurant.
At one point, he thought his food truck would be next. Little did he know, Alexis Akarolo and Ze Clark were coming up with a plan.
“There’s a bigger problem helping the Black community," said Clark.
“We had reached about $100,000 in two days. The support from the community was serious," Akarolo said.
Realizing they had enough to do something substantial, the two 23-year-olds took the money and started the non-profit, Rebuild the Block, which helps Black-owned businesses stay afloat during COVID.
Turner said the move is reminiscent of another time when Black businesses turned to their own communities for survival.
“This is what our people used to do back in the day, before we had access, before we were able to even apply for loans at while owned backs, during segregation," Turner explained.
His food truck benefited for one of the non-profits $2,500 grants. It was enough to pay a commercial kitchen rent for four months to help keep his food truck rolling.
“Sister girl, if y'all would have given me $500, that’s $500 less that I would have to worry about and that is a blessing," Turner said to Akarolo and Clark during a Zoom interview.
Akarolo and Clark both realized what they are doing is bigger than themselves.
“I was almost just brought to tears just now, because I didn’t realize that we are really helping. It’s a satisfaction that I cant explain," Akarolo said.
“Every little bit helps," Turner added.
So far, for the month of August, Rebuild the Block received 57 applications for grants. Clark said the number of applications highlights the need, especially in the Black community.
The non-profit, remotely based as Akarolo lives in California and Clark lives in Pennsylvania, has already helped businesses in almost a dozen states.
The application process takes about a month, according to Clark. To apply, a business must be Black-owned, impacted by COVID or looting, owners must provide documentation like Tax ID and banking statements and the business had to be established prior to January of 2020. After the application process, if approved, the non-profit determines on a tier system how much someone needs and distributes the grant.
The non-profit continues to look for collaboration with other businesses and non-profits and is currently holding a raffle to raise more funds to help the community. To learn more, visit their website.