The loss of revenue due to the coronavirus has made it hard for some Miami black-owned restaurants to keep operating. But consumer support, along with owners’ persistence, has kept them going.
They’ve also been buoyed by community support for Black Lives Matter protests against the murder of George Floyd, which have opened many non-minorities’ eyes to the deeply felt racism in the nation and South Florida.
One of these restaurants is Yardie Spice, which serves Haitian and Jamaican food and opened in Homestead in 2013.
Jean-Paul Cadotte was dealing with a tumor when he and his wife took a drive through Homestead. They saw a business for sale at 225 S. Krome Ave., made an offer and within two weeks came up with the idea for “Yardie,” which is not only the restaurant name but a term for members of the Jamaican diaspora.
“Recently, the sales have increased with the government opening the dine-in to 50 percent capacity,” said Cadotte. “More people have come in to try our great food, especially this week with all that is going on.”
Yardie Spice adapted its business to take-out and delivery with a limited menu before it reopened again in the first week of June for dine-in business.
“We were open during the most part of the coronavirus,” said Cadotte. “We only closed for about nine days. Our restaurant relies heavily on tourists besides just locals. We have dropped in sales by about 60 percent. It’s been a low spot.”
Another place that has seen sales rise as the protest movement has grown is Manjay Restaurant, a fast-casual Haitian restaurant in the Citadel on Northeast Second Avenue in Miami. It typically serves diners in seven to ten minutes.
The Citadel had to close down to diners for several weeks, but it managed through that difficult time with a solid delivery business.
“UberEats is doing a free delivery for the whole year for black-owned businesses, so I did see a spike on sales through them,” said Manjay owner Christian Dominique. “I did see for the last two weeks when the movement was really at its peak. I did see some flashes of support.”
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The restaurant opened in February of last year. Christian and his wife Sabrina were born and raised in Haiti, and Christian’s grandmother had a restaurant there. They wanted to keep the family tradition alive.
“We had to close, but we closed for two weeks,” he said. “At a certain point, I realized that I couldn’t pay my employees so I decided to be open but focus on delivery so that we could still pay them.”
The business reopened to dine-in customers in the first week of June.
A third restaurant is owned by Danielle Perry and Shawn Flowers, both Jamaicans. Reggae Beets is a gourmet food truck that serves a variety of vegan and non-vegan food. It was not negatively affected by the protests.
“We haven’t been negatively impacted, however, we do understand what is going on and we are all for social justice and equality for everyone,” said Flowers. “Even if we weren’t black-owned, equality is equality. That’s what it is and that’s what we stand for. Any form of hate, no matter what form, is not tolerated.”
According to Flowers, their mobility as a food truck actually benefited them during the pandemic.
“We were deemed to be an essential business and we were still able to operate,” said Flowers. “We abided by the CDC guidelines for social distancing and managed to somehow stay afloat.”
The food truck serves Jamaican vegan and non-vegan dishes. It frequents areas such as Miramar, Pembroke Pines, and downtown Miami. Sometimes it even heads for Boca Raton and Boynton Beach.
It was affected, however, by events that were canceled because of COVID-19.
“We were one of the few vendors scheduled for Ultra, Rolling Loud and the Miami Open,” said Flowers. “But with COVID-19 going on, we couldn’t attend. . . we did vend for the Superbowl XLIV and annually we do Art Basel.”
One platform that recommends, reviews and supports black-owned restaurants and the black community is an Instagram account called Melanin Eats, which boasts over 1000 followers.
Formed by Ashley Lilly, 26, and Mackenzie Simone White, 24, Melanin Eats started in the Summer of 2018, highlighting black-owned restaurants across Florida, but especially in the Miami and Orlando area.
“Ashley and I have a really big passion for the underdog, meaning businesses that don’t have a lot of voice,” said White. “There are so many places in Florida that literally nobody knows about. You don’t see them on Instagram, Twitter or Yelp. But then when you go there, it’s such an authentic food, there’s a sense of community, it’s the best service and the best food. It’s like, how do people not know about this?”
“A lot of them don’t even have social media accounts, so it’s nice to see that we can share our passion for food and see other people enjoy their food as well.” Added Lilly.
The “Melanin Sistas,” as they call themselves, plan to expand their platform beyond the printed word. They want to host food events.