These 6 Businesses Are Supporting Their Neighbors
Learn how our Investment Fund grantees are putting their neighborhoods firstMorgan Carter
April 28, 2021
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.
4331 Degnan Blvd, Los Angeles
After getting his start as a Starbucks barista and doling out coffee on a street corner in L.A., Anthony Jolly finally found a place to call his own in 2018 when he opened Hot + Cool Cafe. Co-founded with Jolly’s wife Tina, the Leimert Park cafe dishes out plant-based fare including cauliflower wings, veggie bowls like the soul bowl with plant-based BBQ chicken and collard greens, and desserts, plus a menu of fresh-pressed juices, teas, and coffee roasted in-house. Committed to preserving the area’s historic Black heritage, the cafe regularly hosts Black artists, musicians, and social justice leaders for community gatherings. When COVID-19 hit the Los Angeles area, Anthony partnered with World Central Kitchen to provide meals to senior and low-income families. The Jollys also created their own self-funded program, continuing to address food inequality by handing out 600 to 1,000 meals a week and has also partnered with L.A. Community Fridges. The owners plan to use the grant to aid with payroll, operating costs, and to continue their mission of providing healthy meals to the neighborhood.
Last year, Alejandra Alexander was preparing to take their Hawaii-based business on the road. Announcing Juega Traveling Supper Club—a branch of their business Juega—in late 2019, Alexander had planned a series of pop-ups on the West Coast from Portland down to Mexico City. But soon after arriving in Portland in March 2020, the pandemic closed down restaurants in the area. Switching their business model, Alexander began hand-delivering chorizo and egg enchiladas, chili verde chicken pot pie, and a selection of savory and sweet tamales such as vegan black bean and plantain, blackberry, and apricot rosemary cheese. Still keeping their dream alive, Alexander hopes to resume the journey to Mexico later this year.
Plate of Hue
When his mother decided to go vegan following a cancer diagnosis, Stephan “Chefan” Houston switched his diet in solidarity. Already a talented chef in the kitchen, Houston began recreating family recipes with a vegan spin, ultimately leading to the creation of Plate of Hue in 2019. Under a business name that represents the color, character, and beauty of both the food and the people, Houston creates colorful vegan dishes such as coconut cream–based mac and cheese, bronze jack sliders with jackfruit, and a truffle chili cheeseburger. Due to the onset of COVID-19, Houston had to halt operations for four months as catering events dried up. Resuming operations in fall 2020, Houston has since stayed busy by offering cooking classes and workshops, providing meals for local food drives, and has even catered for famous clients like Lizzo.
7778-B, WI-42, Egg Harbor, Wisconsin
Nubian Simmons, who is allergic to milk and wheat, was inspired to make a delicious cake mix to suit her dietary needs. After perfecting the recipe (and plenty of other desserts), Simmons founded the allergen-free baking mix company The Pink Bakery. She avoids the “Big 8” foods—milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, and soy—and uses only organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, and fair trade ingredients to create brownies, cookies, and cakes. With breakdowns in the supply chain and extended delivery times due to the pandemic, Simmons had to put her catering orders on hold. Leaning into her high-end dry mixes, she has since started shipping her products nationwide. Relocating her business from Memphis to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in November 2020, Simmons hopes to continue to provide allergen-free products for her community.
1217 Caledonia St, La Crosse, Wisconsin
Four years ago, urban planner and architect Adrian Lipscombe was working on a revitalization project in Wisconsin when she came across an empty restaurant space. Looking to open a restaurant centered on community impact, Lipscombe held a series of dinners to gauge the needs of the neighborhood, ultimately taking that information and opening Uptowne Cafe & Bakery. The cafe serves a selection of breakfast sandwiches, hashes, and tacos complemented by coffees, teas, and smoothies. As the pandemic hampered the supply chain, Lipscombe began providing meal kits and stocked her restaurant with grocery items including flour, milk, coffee, and fresh fruits and vegetables from local suppliers and farmers. As a response of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of June 2020, Lipscombe founded the 40 Acres and a Mule Project to preserve Black agricultural traditions and foodways. Though the cafe has returned to indoor dining at 50-percent capacity, Lipscombe is still offering online cooking classes and virtual chef dinners to educate the community on cooking techniques and culture.
107 W 9th St, Los Angeles
For over 15 years, Wood Spoon has stood as a beacon for Brazilian dining in Los Angeles. Drawing upon the African, European, and Indian influences found in owner Natalia Pereira’s home country, the restaurant has long been known for its yucca fries and plantains, sangria, and the Brazilian pot pie with shredded chicken, hearts of palm, and green olive—a dish recreated from Pereira’s childhood. As COVID-19 shuttered restaurants across the city, Pereira had to switch to a takeout-only model and saw a 75-percent decrease in revenue. Pereira plans to use the grant to keep her restaurant open and her staff—some of whom have worked with her for 10 years—employed for good.