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Black Restaurant Week kicks off amid coronavirus pandemic

Black Restaurant Week Co-Founder Derek Robinson joins Yahoo Finance's Krsitin Myers and Reggie Wade to discuss the how the campaign is making changes to adapt to COVID-19.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: But I want to talk to you now about Black Restaurant Week. It's actually the first time that Black Restaurant Week has actually hit New York City, although it is in its fifth year.

I want to bring on Derek Robinson-- he's the Black Restaurant Week Co-founder-- as well as Yahoo Finance's Reggie Wade for this conversation.

So, Derek, I think what really struck me when I saw that Black Restaurant Week was happening was that it's happening in the middle of a pandemic when folks are saying I don't want to go to a restaurant or, you know, I have to just do takeout. I'm wondering from you, what do you see as the importance of Black Restaurant Week in a city like New York in the middle of a pandemic, especially considering how hard hit Black restaurants especially have been hit throughout the last seven or eight months?

DEREK ROBINSON: Yeah, absolutely. And just as you mentioned before, the pandemic is a novel that's not done writing, right? And, you know, we got started-- traditionally we get started in the month of April when we do our Black Restaurant Week campaigns, and we had to push back our own efforts to the month of July.

And since then, we've been able to support over 600 culinary entities from restaurants, food trucks, bartenders, from a series of experiences, just as you mentioned before, encouraging individuals to go to take out and get their favorite restaurant and just say, hey, look, I want to support them because these restaurants are essential businesses. They're the cornerstones of our communities. And, you know, you and I could definitely break bread at the local coffee shop down the street. But, you know, due to COVID, we often kind of can't do that sometimes.

But, you know, we're so thankful that, along with us, these other restaurants have been able to pivot themselves as, you know, reducing some of their menus of, like, you know, maybe 40 items down to those five signature items and really also encouraging them to team up with takeout options such as entities like Black and Mobile and then, of course, Uber Eats and things of that nature. And it's been very well received from across the country.

REGGIE WADE: Derek, Reggie Wade here. Despite the pandemic, Black Restaurants Week is actually expanding. For the first time, you guys will be in New York City. What was behind that decision to come to the Big Apple?

DEREK ROBINSON: You know, the people-- you know, every time we go into a new market, it's always something that everyone's asking us to come there. So New York was no different. And it is the culinary capital of the world, and we could not have an opportunity to let that pass us by.

And so going into New York, we definitely love to highlight those flavors of the African American, African, and Caribbean cuisine. There's just so much that's out there that folks need to, of course, have awareness about but also just go into those different boroughs and just participate and partake in helping these restaurants through this pandemic because, you know, everyone has to eat. So why not-- definitely try a new restaurant.

REGGIE WADE: Oh, you know it. I was looking at some of the menus, and besides getting hungry, I was struck by how many different ethnic cultures there was representing the restaurants. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

DEREK ROBINSON: Absolutely, and that's what we do at Black Restaurant Week. We go outside of just what you consider traditional soul food, right? There's so much within our platform, and we've given those restaurants an opportunity to highlight their "ar-tis-try"-- their artistry, excuse me.

So there's Jamaican food. Of course, there's Caribbean food. There's also folks who do vegan options. There's Ethiopian, Nigerian. There's so many things that we want to make sure that folks are able to expand their palates and really say, hey, look, I went to this restaurant, and I love it, and I definitely want to come back for the years to come.

KRISTIN MYERS: So, Derek, when you and I were chatting in the break, you had mentioned that Black Restaurant Week started in the city of Houston. And obviously this is something that has expanded. But as I mentioned, we are in the middle of a pandemic, and restaurants especially have been very hard hit. I'm wondering, as you've been working with restaurants, what have you been hearing as we're now in November? Coronavirus cases are surging. What are you hearing from restaurant owners or people that work in the restaurant industry about where they're at right now?

DEREK ROBINSON: You know, it's a myriad of stories. You know, just with campaigns such as Black Restaurant Week, we're able to have a lot of these restaurants have their doors open for another year. You know, we project about 20% to 40% sales when our campaigns come into the cities that we highlight.

And, you know, just as I mentioned before, a lot of restaurants are pivoting. So outside of just your traditional opportunities for an individual to come and partake into their restaurants, they've also tapped into things that have made them well-known. Like, for example, we have Chef Oya that's out of the Indianapolis area who has Trap Buttah that she sells, and that has definitely had an opportunity to keep her over through this pandemic.

Also in the same area, KC Daiquiri Shop, they were able to talk to Mayor Clinton Lucas out there and to say, hey, look, we'd love to work with you to have a cocktails-to-go opportunity, and that also sustained them throughout this epidemic as well too.

So these restaurants have done a very phenomenal job as far as being able to really understand and dig a little deeper as far as being able to provide individuals those hard-on things they look for like, you know, sauces, spices, foods, things of that nature.

And, you know, and also with that as well too, some of the restaurants, they've been also reducing their operations. A lot of the restaurants are going down to almost 25% of occupancy. So, you know, I can't really pinpoint as far as what the next step will be, but I do know there is going to be-- might be a reduction of space for restaurants in the next coming years.

REGGIE WADE: Derek, I see it all the time every time I go into a local restaurant for takeout. There's usually a sign that says due to COVID-19, prices are slightly up. Have we been seeing that in some of the restaurants represented in Black Restaurant Week, and what have they been doing to try to combat that?

DEREK ROBINSON: There are some restaurants that do happen to have that upcharge, as you mentioned before. And it is just a situation where we tell all of our folks who are participating and supporting these restaurants to understand that they also have to pay for that from their own operations. So it should be no different from them being able to support them in that aspect.

I know we're definitely trying to look and see what we can do as far as combating some of those issues, but a lot of the restaurants that are a part of Black Restaurant this year have to opted into, you know, Uber Eats and the Black and Mobiles, things of that nature to be able to supply folks their food from a takeout angle.

KRISTIN MYERS: Derek, we have about one minute left here with you. I'm hoping you can highlight how necessary, or if it is still necessary, stimulus, economic aid from Congress. Those negotiations haven't gone anywhere. We now have a vaccine, so people are celebrating that this pandemic might be over soon. But in the interim, as you're talking to those restaurant owners, how much do they still need aid?

DEREK ROBINSON: They need it, to be very honest. And, you know, just as I mentioned before, with our campaign, we definitely bring in, though, the folks to be able to support them for that moment. But, you know, definitely with moments of highlighting them and supporting them for years to come, but there's also a never need.

I know out there in the state of New York, [INAUDIBLE], she received a PPP loan. And, you know, she said it was definitely good for her for that moment, but it also is still another opportunity for them to receive more aid as they continue to go through this pandemic. So it's definitely something that we're working towards and working with other entities to be able to sustain restaurants nationwide.