How to support Black owned businesses in Portland

Business

Black businesses hit especially hard by tough economic times in Portland

Keacean Phillips is the owner of Jamaican Homestyle Cuisine in North Portland (undated photo courtesy ILoveBlackFood.com).

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — While businesses in the Portland metro area in general are being hit with a double blow of pandemic restrictions and disruptions from protests, Black owned businesses may be hit especially hard by these tough economic times.

Portland has seen a string of protests against police brutality and systemic racism that have gathered people in the thousands each night for over a week now. They are in solidarity with protests sweeping the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for several minutes while handcuffed on the ground and was captured in shocking cell phone footage.

Many who wish to show support to the cause of racial equality may wonder just how best to support the local Black economy.

Luckily there are a number of resources available online designed specifically to help people show support of Portland Black owned businesses.

Mercatus, an online platform highlighting entrepreneurs of color in Portland through storytelling and support services, has a running directory of Black owned businesses. The organization is supported in part by the city’s urban development commission, Prosper Portland.

Supporting Black owned restaurants in Portland

ILoveBlackFood.com aka Support Black Owned Restaurants – Portland is an online directory of black owned restaurants and eateries of any kind, including Black farmers, food carts, bars, food markets or catering services in the Portland metro area of Oregon/SW Washington. The website’s listings were updated Friday to account for closures amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and other changes to businesses.

“We’re just really trying to shine a light on what these businesses are doing to help promote them, help promote what they’re serving up and try and send more business their way,” Devra Polack, the organization’s lead administrator, told KOIN 6 News. “And really compared to predominantly white Portland business, Black owned businesses are really at a strong disadvantage.”

A legacy in Portland and Oregon of unfair lending practices from banks, redlining, and disparate real estate deals for African Americans reflects the historic discriminatory practices across the U.S. That makes Black business owners generally operating at “a much greater economic disadvantage,” compared to their white counterparts, Polack explained.

“I think one of the things, misconceptions, I think that folks may have with business operations is that all businesses are created equal. And that is not necessarily the case,” Damala Badon, owner and operator of DB Dessert Company in Northeast Portland, told KOIN 6 News.

“I think a lot of businesses of color that operate don’t necessarily have the same access to some of the things that other businesses–may that be capital, may that be support from their community or advertising or marketing support. Or just help in general getting businesses off the ground,” she said. 

DB Dessert Company closed down completely for about a month and a half, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Badon said. They’ve only just begun to slowly open back up, for takeout only, to serve their cakes, milkshakes, cinnamon rolls, cupcakes and other treats.

“With the outbreak and the COVID, all of the COVID restrictions, it took a pretty giant hit on our business because we are in the celebration business and we do a lot of work with weddings and birthdays and celebrations,” Badon said.

She added that she has mixed emotions about Multnomah County possibly being on the verge of entering Phase 1 reopening, with county officials having applied for the status Friday with a goal of entering Phase 1 on June 12.

“I just think in all actuality, we have to find a way to get back to some type of normalcy because this virus is not going to just disappear one day. So we’re going to have to figure out how we operate in a safe capacity and still have that in the back of our mind,” Badon said.

DB Desserts in Northeast Portland has been hard hit by the recent coronavirus pandemic since many of their customers were for social gatherings like birthdays and weddings (undated photo courtesy ILoveBlackFood.com).

Though the recent protests against police brutality may have presented its own challenges in learning how to operate differently, Badon said she has definitely “been trying to support the movement.” Her building was hit with a little bit of graffiti, she said, but that’s all.

Badon said she got a big influx of customers in the past week from folks who wanted to show support for Black businesses and found out about her bakery through sites like ILoveBlackFood.com.

“A lot of the things we heard was ‘we never knew you guys existed’ or ‘we live right down the street and we never knew this was here,'” Badon said.

Jamaican Homestyle Cuisine in North Portland also saw an influx of customers supporting its business, Owner Keacean Phillips told KOIN 6 News.

“I’m overwhelmed with the amount of support that the Black community is getting from our white brothers and sisters because we need that,” Phillips said. “We need to move away from the anger …and hating and refusing to understand another kind of people because we look different from each other.”

She added she’s also “very much supporting” the protests “as long as it improves on our thinking and our behavior towards each other.”

Phillips is originally from Jamaica and she serves classic island dishes like jerk wings, brown stew chicken, curry chicken and sweet fried plantains.

Her business was also hit with a little paint, but she said it was not graffiti per se or anything disrespectful.

“We have some containers on the side of our building and I’ve seen people do painting. But it’s like a mural…I’m OK with that,” she said.

Phillips, who is a single mother of two, said business has been very difficult since the pandemic started and they were also closed for about a month and a half. They now operate as take out only.

“Our income had cut back significantly,” she said.

Phillips said, in terms of her reaction to Multnomah County possibly entering phased reopening next week, that she would look forward to seeing more business from it but isn’t comfortable just yet seating people.

“We have an outside seating area so if people want to sit outside, we’re still going to be providing takeout materials for them and they can sit outside and eat. But as relates to dining inside, we’re not comfortable with that at all,” Phillips said.

She said she’s “beyond grateful” about being listed on ILoveBlackFood.com, which is currently all volunteer run.

“They listing us has really brought in a lot of customers. Even my following on Instagram has skyrocketed as a result of them listing us,” Phillips said.

Theotis Cason is the proprietor of Cason’s Fine Meats in Northeast Portland. He told KOIN 6 News the butcher shop has been hosting events recently giving out food for free to those in need (undated photo courtesy ILoveBlackFood.com).

In terms of her message to folks wanting to be supportive of the Black community during this time but might not know how, Phillips said if people really want to help: “Don’t let it be a one time thing.”

“Do not support only when there’s a protest or when there’s a crisis and we want to rebel against something. Just like how you go out and support other businesses on a daily basis, don’t make us be like a charity case,” Phillips said. “We want everybody to go out and support whoever you want to support, whether it’s Black, or Mexican, or Asian, or white. We have to be a community that sticks together.”

August 24-30, 2020 is Support Black Owned Restaurants Week in Portland. It is a time for people to show their patronage to Black owned restaurants and usually comes with a theme and sometimes special deals at eateries. It will be the 7th year of the event.

William Travis, who runs the eatery Dub’s St. Johns out of Marie’s bar in North Portland, was an original founder of the ILoveBlackFood.com website and organizer of the Support Black Owned Restaurants Week in Portland, Polack said.

More resources for black owned businesses, supporters

BlackPDX.com serves as a virtual community hub created to amplify the voices and messages of the Black community in the Portland metro area, with the ultimate goal of improving economic conditions for Black families. They offer assistance to business owners, non-profits, creatives and other organizations.

The Black American Chamber of Commerce is an organization that serves the greater Portland area. Launched on June 19, 2019, the anniversary of the day slavery was ended, BACC offers services that include networking events, referrals, marketing, student scholarships for higher education provided through fundraising and more. Follow them on Facebook to keep up-to-date on their latest events.

Fitness Instructors of Color is an Instagram page that highlights and supports those who are leading the fitness industry in the Pacific Northwest who are Black, indigenous and people of color. Follow them for photos and stories about fitness instructors of color, inspiring quotes and suggestions of tangible ways to support Black fitness leaders in your area.

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