When COVID-19 hit the United States, Black-owned businesses took a disproportionate brunt of its financial blow. Black ownership declined by more than 40 percent, the largest decline in any racial group, and more than half of all Black-owned businesses experienced decreased sales. As programs and initiatives emerged to help struggling enterprises, the Black Restaurant Accelerator (BRA) program, a $10 million commitment from the PepsiCo Foundation to the National Urban League to ensure Black restaurateurs survive and thrive, did not merely swoop in with dollars, it committed to boosting the industry.
“At PepsiCo, we understand the power of food and the convening power that food really brings,” says C.D. Glin, Global Head of Philanthropy & VP at PepsiCo. “And when we saw the Black community dealing with the negative impacts of what was happening—sort of with the double whammy of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the racial reckoning brought on by the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor—our leadership at the highest levels of the company said we need to do something and we need to be a part of the solution.”
In that moment, PepsiCo made a commitment of $400 million to Black restaurateurs—a racial equity initiative that will span 10 years. The impact, to the delight of PepsiCo, the National Urban League, and the restaurateurs it’s helping, has been massive. “Black-owned businesses are the backbone of our communities. We have supported these businesses in their ventures for many decades and watched how they have created jobs, inspired new enterprises, and established family legacies for generations,” says Marc Morial, President & CEO, National Urban League. “While the pandemic has threatened to erase the advancements of Black-owned businesses and deepen disparities that hinder our communities, the impact of this program is a testament to resilience.”
In one year, the BRA has awarded 100 restaurant owners a financial grant allowing them to create and keep jobs, purchase assets, and secure contracts. Additionally, 400 restaurants have received holistic support including counseling and training sessions.
“It's sort of a misnomer to think about support to restaurants as only being financial. Most businesses need more than the financial support,” Glin tells EBONY. “So we're providing that non-financial support with the marketing support, the mentoring, the real business management guidance, and all of the business advisory services.”
Glin calls the training and advisory component that’s being provided by the National Urban League entrepreneurship centers, “the glue that brings the whole program together.” In total the initiative has offered businesses 150 counseling sessions and another 1,185 training sessions. That’s in addition to contract opportunities, creating 14 new businesses and saving more than 60 jobs. This week the BRA celebrated its progress in New Orleans and called on others to help ensure their mission has a lasting impact. As The Big Easy resumes hosting cultural events and welcoming visitors back, PepsiCo and the National Urban League see this as an opportunity for others to join the fight in saving and supporting Black restaurateurs.
“We need members of the business community and policymakers to step up and act with urgency to ensure the businesses have equitable access to the critical resources,” says Morial.
Glin is hopeful that with the help of the private sector and programs like BRA, Black businesses will rebound to greater numbers than those experienced before the 2020 downturn. “I'm definitely a glass-half-full kind of guy,” the senior executive asserts. Though he understands the financial fallout from COVID won’t resolve itself overnight, he’s clear that the PepsiCo Foundation is making a difference.
“PepsiCo has talked the talk, and we're literally walking the walk,” says Glin. “We're not new to this. We're true to this. We really are a company that is trying to live out our values and support the communities that make us who we are and enable us to do what we do.”