Stories / Impact

7 Businesses Getting Creative During COVID-19

Learn how our Investment Fund grantees are innovating to stay open

Morgan Carter

April 20, 2021


Interior shot of the dining room The Consulate. Picture of a blue velvet booth with light fixture overhanging the table
The interior of The Consulate (photo: Douglas Hines)

The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for the restaurant industry, permanently shuttering 17 percent of restaurants nationwide, and revealing inequities and vulnerabilities baked into the foundation of these businesses. But there is hope on the horizon, as vaccines roll out and more food professionals are immunized. At the James Beard Foundation, we’re looking forward with optimism, while also striving to provide resources and tools to help the industry recover and rebuild with equity and sustainability at its heart.

A key part of our efforts to support and rebuild the industry is the Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans. Over the past few months we’ve disbursed grants of $15,000 each to 37 independent businesses across the country, who are not only using the funds to keep the lights on or rehire staff laid off during the pandemic, but to grow as leaders in their communities and beyond. For the next few weeks, we’ll be showcasing our grantees, from their menus to their local impact. Read on for inspiring stories and delicious dishes, and learn more about supporting the Investment Fund at our upcoming event featuring conversations with three of the grantees.


Caribbean Spice

325 Powder Springs Rd Suite 100, Marietta, GA

Less than a year after opening the doors of her restaurant Caribbean Spice, Sonia Alexis had to shut down her business due to the pandemic. Prioritizing the safety of her staff, Alexis reopened her business in June 2020 as takeout only with limited hours. Though still operating a carryout-only model, Caribbean Spice is still serving up favorites such as braised oxtail, curry goat, and jerk chicken with plantains and pikliz.

Cooking With Curls


Rachel Whitfield’s seasonings prove you don’t have to compromise flavor for health. After developing an allergy to onions, she began experimenting in the kitchen and started looking for substitutions to match her low-sodium preferences. Unable to find a satisfying option, she began producing her own blend of low-sodium and salt-free seasonings, leading to the creation of Cooking With Curls. Selling bundles of lemon and herb, Cajun, and Creole spices, her creative blends have caught the eye of and have been featured on Beyoncé’s website. Aligning with Whitfield’s personal mission of ending childhood hunger, five percent of each purchase goes to No Kid Hungry. Whitfield hopes to use the grant to hire more staff and deliver even more food content on her website and channels.

Photo of Kiki Cyrus standing in front of a wall that reads Kiki's with a logo of a chicken, a plus sign, and a waffle
Kiki's Chicken and Waffles co-owner Kitwanda Cyrus (photo: Jon J Photography)

Kiki's Chicken and Waffles

1260 Bower Parkway suite A8, Columbia, SC
7001 Parklane Road, Columbia, SC

Kiki's Chicken and Waffles has been drawing South Carolinians with the promise of Southern fried chicken and pillowy soft Belgian waffles since 2012. Complemented by a menu of fried green beans, mac and cheese, and cream corn nuggets, this soul food staple has been visited by notable figures such as Hillary Clinton and President Joe Biden (who enjoyed one of Kiki’s most famous options, fried chicken over red velvet waffles). Due to COVID-19, Kiki’s scaled back indoor dining by 50 percent at both locations. The husband-and-wife team behind the business, Kitwanda and Tyrone Cyrus, plan to use the grant to start their own delivery service and provide partitions for a safer dining experience. In the near future, the couple hopes to sell their signature chicken breading mix at grocery stores.

Sydnor Boys BBQ

Springfield, TN

For Patrick Sydnor, social gatherings were always centered around barbecue. With encouragement from his family and friends, Sydnor started Sydnor Boys BBQ in 2017. Cooking alongside his children, he began serving up smoked brisket, chicken, and ribs at parties, weddings, and festivals all around Tennessee and its neighboring states. Sydnor has made education a part of his work, employing teens from underprivileged areas and previously incarcerated individuals on staff and teaching them the ins and outs of owning a business. Unfortunately, the pandemic led to a decrease in revenue, forcing Sydnor to let go of most of his staff and cut back on his various charitable events, including donating meals to the homeless and healthcare workers. Sydnor hopes to use the grant to rehire staff, restart catering engagements, and resume his philanthropic efforts.

Interior shot of the private dining room at The Consulate restaurant. The left hand wall is decorated with a world map while the rest of the room is decorated with various framed images on the wall
The private dining room at The Consulate Atlanta (photo: Douglas Hines)

The Consulate Atlanta

10 10th St NW, Atlanta

After settling down in Atlanta, Douglas Hines and Mei Lin soon began to miss the diversity of foods found in their native New York. In 2016 the couple opened The Consulate Atlanta as a way to bring international flavors to the city. The menu, which changes every three months, has drawn from various cuisines, featuring dishes like Filipino BBQ pork skewers, Moroccan kefta kebabs, and Ethiopian tibs spiced with berbere. While the restaurant had to temporarily shutter for three months in 2020, the Consulate returned last summer with to-go Passport Dinners that highlighted the cuisines of Zambia, India, Turkey, and Venezuela.

The Uptown Yolk

224 E. 7th Street, Charlotte, NC

Helmed by husband-and-wife team Gregory and Subrina Collier, Uptown Yolk is an award-winning breakfast and brunch restaurant. The Charlotte-based eatery specializes in comfort food from shrimp and grits and breakfast sandwiches to the Daubenspeck, a French toast dish topped with dulce de leche and maple whipped cream. Gregory has been nominated for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2019 and 2020, the first African-American chef out of Charlotte to receive the nod. The couple also co-founded the pop-up dinner series Soul Food Sessions as a way to acknowledge and support Black voices in the culinary scene. Making an effort to employ the underserved and underrepresented in their community, the couple plan to use the grant to keep their employees on staff.

Your Resident Gourmet


Traveling the globe alongside her military partner, Jennifer Hill Booker found herself living abroad in Germany but unable to find a job. Leaning on her expertise in the kitchen, she started teaching both American military and German families how to cook, which led to the creation of Your Resident Gourmet. Now based back in the U.S., Hill Booker provides catering, cooking classes and demonstrations, and an online store of goods. Additionally, Hill Booker has authored two cookbooks, competed on Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen, and was named a fellow in the 2020 class of the James Beard Foundation’s Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership program. Though COVID-19 affected the consulting arm of her business, Hill Booker is staying afloat by selling seasoning salts, sprinkles, and spice blends on her website.

Learn more about the James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans.

Register for our event on April 29 featuring Investment Fund grantees.

Read more about our Investment Fund grantees.


Morgan Carter is the branded content manager at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.