Black restaurant owners reflect on second anniversary of pandemic closures

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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – March 11, 2020 shook the world as the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency after coronavirus cases spread.

Communities shut down and daily routines came to a halt. Many businesses have been ordered to close and some have never reopened.

A Federal Reserve analysis found that black-owned businesses were particularly hard hit. For black restaurateurs, gratitude is an understatement when Richmond Black Restaurant Experience.

“Richmond Black Restaurant Experience two years ago was just before everything was closed for COVID,” said Amy Wentz, co-founder of Richmond’s Black Restaurant Experience.

Life as we knew it has come to a standstill, forcing many businesses to sink or swim

“When the pandemic hit, we just went 100% take-out, and again our customers were 100% in favor of that. But not everyone had that. Not everyone was able to shift like that,” Lester Johnson said.

Johnson is the owner of soul food sensation Mama J’s.

Recipes passed down from his mother Velma Johnson, grandmother and great-grandmother draw visitors from all over the East Coast, especially during RBRE. Hosting customers for in-person dining this year is a blessing.

“It’s a tough business, and you know a lot of it is about marketing and letting people know you’re there. You could be selling the best food in the world, but if people don’t know you’re there, then you’re going to have a bit of a hard time,” Johnson said.

“RBRE has done a really good job showcasing these restaurants,” he said.

Unfortunately, Wentz said one of the participating restaurants had to permanently close due to the pandemic.

However, they were able to help some businesses through crowdfunding and city support.

Restaurant owners like Johnson haven’t fully rebounded since the pandemic, which is why Wentz thinks the black restaurant experience in Richmond is more important than ever.

“What better way to celebrate that resilience than to come out and support those restaurants that have weathered the storm, truly been resilient, and we’re excited to be back at that,” Wentz said.

Copyright 2022 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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