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'We are richer because of the contribution of black cooking’: Chef Marcus Samuelsson

Chef Marcus Samuelsson joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the challeges facing black restaurants and why black businesses are more than twice as likely to shutter due to COVID-19.

Video Transcript

- The restaurant industry has certainly been hurt pretty substantially by the pandemic. There was a new report out from the National Restaurant Association finding that sales in the sector fell by about $240 billion in the year 2020 alone. We want to bring in Chef Marcus Samuelsson.

Of course I think a lot of our viewers have heard of him before, but he's an award-winning chef, he's a restaurateur, he's the author of a new book, "The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food." He's also a philanthropist and food activist. Chef, it's great to have you on the program. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

I guess first let's start with the pandemic and how restaurants are currently feeling right now around the country. What do you think the industry needs at this point, whether it's more government help, more support from the government, or what they need just to get to the other side?

MARCUS SAMUELSSON: First of all, thank you so much for having me. Very happy to be back on. Yeah, it's the toughest time in the restaurant industry, at least in the last 30, 40 years or so. And it particularly hits Black and Brown businesses in much, much harder ways, right?

You look at the stats, 41% of Black businesses will shut because of the pandemic. When you look at that number into white businesses, only 17%. They're both horrific numbers, but it does impact Black and Brown communities completely different.

And what we need is grants. We need help from private businesses, we need corporate businesses, we need local government and federal government. What we don't need is more loans. We need grants.

And that's one of the reasons why we came together, my team, and Samir's team, and Project Bento, to create this charity, Black Business Matters Matching Fund, so people can donate and get involved in giving grants out to small businesses that need to so much now.

- And you're doing this in conjunction-- it's not just the people you've mentioned, but Uber Eats. I mean, we're going to learn more about this when they report earnings tomorrow, but can you tell us how that works so those of us who want to be a part of this can take part in it?

MARCUS SAMUELSSON: No, this would not be possible without Uber Eats. And I have to say thank you to them, for a big organization, to understand the sense of urgency. They asked me, what do we need? We need big corporations like Uber Eats to jump into the game right now. Because wintertime in the Northeast is one of the toughest time in the normal industry times, but you add during COVID, so many businesses will close.

We needed to work swiftly, so that's why we came together and started Black Business Matters Matching Fund. And if you go on that, BlackBusinessMattersMatchingFund.org, you will see this network of chefs and grants that we're giving out to small businesses across the country.

- Chef, when you talk about that, there's so many small businesses that are continuing to suffer at this time. From your conversations with people nationwide, I guess, how long do you expect it to take until the restaurant industry, specifically, is able to get back to where it was before the pandemic?

MARCUS SAMUELSSON: Well, first of all, it's not just about restaurants, but restaurants are the heart and soul of our neighborhoods. And when restaurant goes, so goes retail. And restaurant is also evening retail, which makes it extra so more important, right?

The second part of that, getting back to sort of December of 2019, it will definitely take five to six years or something like that. Because, if you think about it, business-- our business in Harlem, and in Overtown, and so on, it was built on local business and support, but also conventional business and then eventually tourism.

Well, right now we only have that local business, because people are not going to go back and travel. The convention business will take a long time before that comes back, and the tourist business will come last after that.

So this is-- we're under crisis right now, and that's why we need clear grants. And we need local government, federal government. we need corporations. Because, trust me, at the same time, there are pandemic billionaires that are making more and more money than ever, so we need, you know, all sides to come together and work collectively together to slowly walk us out of this. We need the help right now.

- You know, the one thing that always brings people together is food. And I want to quote from the discussion of your new book that, quote, "celebrates the diverse deliciousness of Black cooking today."

Some of us in New York might know restaurants like Sylvia's, and in Indianapolis it would be Maribel's. But help us understand, it's much more than just what a lot of people think is soul food. Tell us more about this.

MARCUS SAMUELSSON: Well, the pillars of Black cooking in America, I want you to think about it the way we think about pop culture and music, and African-Americans' contribution to the music scene. Same thing has been going on with food.

There's five original cuisines that is linked to Black diaspora and Black cooking, but also American cuisine. Low country, southern food, Creole, Cajun, and barbecue. All of that stemmed from black cooking.

We're not monolithic, and then you add sort of the immigrant narrative on top of that. The food from Haiti, Jamaica, the Caribbean, and Africa, as well. So we are richer and more diverse in this country because the contribution of Black cooking.

If we can understand it the way we understand jazz, hip hop, rock and roll, and gospel, for example, I think it would help us to create the right authorship when it comes to food, the right memories, and eventually then the right ownership structure and aspirations.

- Chef Marcus Samuelsson, great to have you on "Yahoo Finance Live." Thanks so much for taking the time to join us. We hope to have you back.