Black businesses: Surviving and thriving during the pandemic

Coronavirus

(WAVY) — Two months after the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, nearly 50% of Black-owned businesses went under, according to a study released from the University of California, Santa Cruz. 

However, against all odds, few local Black entrepreneurs found a way to launch their new businesses. 

Mac and cheese egg rolls, shrimp and grits, and Nana’s fried chicken sandwich are a few creations by kitchen connoisseur Kyle Folkes, who recently launched his business.

 “I’ve been the executive chef at the embassy suites hotel in Hampton for 13 years now,” said Folkes. 

He was the executive chef there, until the global pandemic shut down the world and his position, forcing him to pivot and go into business for himself.  

“I had to take some money out of my 401k, thankfully I had a lot of that saved up over the years. I was also able to secure a new business loan from the City of Newport News,” Folkes said.

With some extra help from friends willing to invest in his new business venture, new American Kitchen food truck, Sate Kitchen, set the culinary scene ablaze.   

Meanwhile, making the swivel from salon chair to salon owner was always a part of the 2020 plans for natural hairstylist Shalleen-Kaye Jones.  

“I really started watching the numbers, doing the research trying to figure out what it would take to own a salon,” said Jones. 

The preparation paid off. Jones wove together enough savings to purchase her own salon in Chesapeake as she was working at another salon across town.

“Everything you see in here, I don’t owe anyone anything. This is cash. I cashed out,” Jones said.  

But just like the rest of the country, Jones’ plans came to a screeching halt. 

“I found a place January, secured everything February, and then had to pause in March,” Jones added. 

Luckily, the landlord worked with Jones and allowed her to push back her start date from summer to fall.   

For barbershop owner Craig Burgess, the pandemic felt like the beginning of the end. 

“The first thing I thought to myself was ‘How in the world am I going to pay these bills?’” Burgess said.

After being forced to cut off his clippers for three months, Burgess applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, but found it difficult to complete the process.  

“The information that was available on the website was just too much to understand. I didn’t make it past the first step,” said Burgess.  

His saving grace came from a colleague who put Burgess in contact with his banker. 

“I contacted her and the last day of the application of enrollment, she actually filled it out for me.” 

Black BRAND, the Hampton Roads Black Chamber of Commerce, is an organization that works to combat issues many Black business owners face, including lack of financial savings and less access to capital, including federal PPP loans. 

CEO and founder of the company Blair Durham says scenarios like Burgess’ don’t come as a surprise. 

“Most of our business community, we don’t have a banker that either calls us or that we can call. We don’t understand what that relationship would even look like,” said Durham. 

Durham said it’s difficult to provide resources to Black business owners, when there’s no set list showing where they’re located. 

“We know there are about 25,000 businesses in the area, but the cities don’t have a comprehensive list, the state doesn’t have a list. We’ve tried to purchase a list.” 

Because, as Durham said, access is the key to opportunity, which in turn will help entrepreneurs comb through the rough patches.

“You know your bills look like when it’s good, you know what it looks like when it’s medium and you know what it looks like when it’s slow. So, you’re prepared and stay ahead of all those possibilities because they will come,” said Jones.

And not allow a global pandemic to burn out their flame. 

“There’s been a demand for me to go into business for myself. As crazy as it may seem, it took a pandemic and now, we’re full steam ahead. I guess I am grateful,” said Folkes.  

This weekend, Black BRAND is hosting their very own business development conference, Black Diamond Weekend from Nov. 27-29.  

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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