June 22, 2021

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Foodies welcome

Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson [Video]

Chef, author, and food activist Marcus Samuelsson knows the struggles that restaurants face all too well. He recently joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the challenges facing Black restaurants amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s the toughest time in the restaurant industry at least in the last 30 or 40 years or so,” said Samuelsson. “It particularly hits Black and Brown businesses in much harder ways. You look at the stats, 41% of Black businesses will shut because of the pandemic. When you look at that number compared to white businesses is only 17%. They’re both horrific numbers, but it does impact Black and Brown communities completely differently.”

Samuelsson said it’s important to support Black businesses and to remember the role Black cooking has played in shaping U.S. culture.

“We are richer and more diverse in this country because of the contribution of Black cooking. If we can understand that 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.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13: Marcus Samuelsson onstage during the Grand Tasting presented by ShopRite featuring Culinary Demonstrations at The IKEA Kitchen presented by Capital One at Pier 94 on October 13, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images for NYCWFF)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 13: Marcus Samuelsson onstage during the Grand Tasting presented by ShopRite featuring Culinary Demonstrations at The IKEA Kitchen presented by Capital One at Pier 94 on October 13, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images for NYCWFF)

The author of “The Rise of Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food” tells Yahoo Finance that when it comes to helping out struggling restaurants, they need grants, not loans.

“What we need is grants. We need help from private businesses. We need corporate businesses. We need local government and the federal government. What we don’t need is more loans. We need grants.”

Samuelsson says that’s the reason why he and UberEats teamed up to form the Black Business Matters Matching Fund, a charity in which donations fund grants given to small businesses.

“This would not be possible without UberEats. 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 … to jump into the game right now because wintertime in the Northeast is one of the toughest times in the normal restaurant industry, but you add during COVID, so many businesses were closed, so we need to work swiftly. So that’s where we came together and started Black Business Matters Matching Fund.”

According to Samuelsson, restaurants are part of the larger story of neighborhoods, and their success or failure has a big impact on their surrounding communities.

“It’s not just about restaurants — but restaurants are the heart and soul of our neighborhoods, and when a restaurant goes, so goes retail.”

He predicts that it could take as much as five to six years for some local restaurants and businesses to get back on their feet post-pandemic. He tells Yahoo Finance that both private and public sectors need to come together to help these businesses out.

“Our business in Harlem, it was built on local business and support, but also convention business, and then eventually tourism. Well, right now, we’re low. We only have that local business because people are not going to get 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 why we’re under a crisis right now, and that’s why we need grants, and we need local government, the federal government. We need corporations because, trust me, at the same time, there are pandemic billionaires. They’re making more and more, more money than ever. So we need all sides to come together and work collectively together to slowly walk us out of this. We need to help right now.”

Samuelsson also discussed the role Black cooking has played in shaping U.S. culture.

“We are richer and more diverse in this country because of the contribution of Black cooking. If we can understand that 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.”

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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