‘I don’t know how to give up:’ Soul-filled restoration, other black businesses navigate tough pandemic

MUSKEGON, Michigan — Soul Filled Eatery served collard greens, mac and cheese, fried chicken wings and other southern fare. However, he was known for his turkey shanks. Owner Lakisha Harris said they were the best around. His little restaurant was so crowded there was a 45-60 minute wait.

However, now turkey shanks will come in containers with its other foods.

“Who doesn’t love good food. I knew I had a good product. I knew I had something unique. But what I didn’t know was the best way to spread this,” Harris said during an interview with Fox 17 in mid-February. “I discovered, almost like the mantra in field of dreams ‘if you build, they will come.’ So I started building smaller spaces where people feel more comfortable coming.

A few months ago, Harris closed her restaurant on Glade Street and has since moved to BoomTown Market in downtown Muskegon, where there isn’t much southern cuisine. It changed its business activities from being a restaurant to being Soul Filled Catering and Private Chef Services.

“I take her to places where there is no food for the soul. There’s no soul food in Montague, that’s true. There is no soul food in Hart and in the north. It is special. It’s greedy. It’s unique, and that’s where business will thrive, I think so to speak,” she said. “So I’m going to be busy moving around and doing legwork to build a brand, but also getting them back to a headquarters, a point of reference and that’s downtown muskegon.”

Fox 17 conducted the interview in BoomTown Market.

Harris said she made the decision to move there after a tough 2021. Throughout the year, she has worn many hats, from accountant to marketing manager to chef. However, she never took home a salary, she said in a previous interview with Fox 17. All the money she earned went back into the business.

“It was very tumultuous because with demand and changing food prices, my prices started to fluctuate. I had to change my menu. I had to change and adjust my hours,” Harris said. “It was very difficult most of the time, you know, my grandmother used to say, ‘Sometimes you have to drink tears to get water.’ So I was going home with tears in my eyes but I would never show myself like this. I just kept giving my best.

Harris added that it was difficult to get financial help. She applied for the Paycheck Protection Program loan and the Small Business Association loan and was denied.

“It was almost impossible. Every time we showed up, presented the documentation, there were denials after denials,” Harris said. “So we did all of this in cash. We did all of this on credit. So while they’re telling us ‘hey, the funding is there for you to survive, to thrive, not really. There are requests from April of last year that are still stalling with no result.

Harris is not alone.

According to the Brookings Institute’s Small Business Credit Survey, 92% of Black-owned businesses reported experiencing financial difficulties in 2020. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, 41% of Black-owned businesses closed immediately after the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020. .

“It was difficult, especially in the beginning. When the aid was announced, a lot of black businesses didn’t qualify just because of the scale and the way certain programs were rolled out,” Jamiel Robinson said in an interview with FOX 17. mid February. “So that excluded a lot of black businesses from some of the grants, from some of the relief opportunities.

Robinson is the president of Black Business in the Grand Rapids area. He said 5.6% of businesses in Kent County are black-owned. And, 90% of Black-owned businesses nationwide are either sole proprietor LLCs or sole proprietorships, meaning they have no employees. This fact alone prevented many companies from receiving the PPP loan in the early rounds.

Fox 17 contacted more than 40 black-owned businesses in western Michigan, including restaurants and daycares. Thirteen responded and provided these results:

  • 6 answered “yes”, they applied for financial assistance and received either the PPP loan or a grant or other assistance
  • 4 answered “yes”, they applied for financial assistance and were refused
  • 3 said “no” they did not apply for financial assistance because they did not meet the criteria and opened their business at the end of 2020

Robinson added that the PPP loan changed its criteria later to allow more people to qualify.

“So they tried to rectify that a bit later, but at that point a lot of businesses were still hurting and a lot of businesses didn’t fully recover just because of how long the economic downturn lasted, and then pair that with the rising costs of everything,” Robinson said. “It’s just a crazy time for black businesses, especially ones that have already started potentially undercapitalized.”

Black Wall Street Muskegon’s Lashae Simmons II said businesses have suffered during the pandemic. However, those who have thrived are those who have become creative.

“I’ve seen a lot of companies that many would believe or fail, get creative. It’s just something we can say in our culture in general: in wrestling, we get creative,” Simmons said during a Zoom interview in mid-February. “It’s about did you use your creativity?” Have you used your resources? Did you succeed or did you let this pandemic manage you?

Simmons, who operates his own financial planning firm and runs Black Wall Street Muskegon, said many companies that survived used the time of the pandemic to revamp, rebrand, leverage resources and seek mentorship.

And, it pays off.

“The flavor of Kaja. She created a cafe,” Simmons said. “It’s one of the first that comes to mind. I saw Kuntry Cookin, they came last year with their mobile food truck. I mean Ketra Braids. She is in Holland. She went through a pandemic dated a hair salon. I think people have grown up. People have grown. »

Harris has also been creative in seeking funding to expand. As the money did not reach her, she went and knocked on the door, she said.

“I started reaching out to people who had money ‘Hey, wink, you have money, can we partner with you? Hey YMCA, you have money, can we partner with you? Hey, Hamburger Mikey, can we partner with you? she says. “And that’s how you’ll now see the collaborations I have with Danielle’s Hey Sugar Cotton Candy [and] Tim at Mikey’s Burger. We do collaborations with Burl & Sprig, Tony’s Pizza in the Park.

Harris said she continues to experience roadblocks, not getting phone calls or being invited into certain corporate spaces.

However, she continues. Since Tuesday, March 1, her wares have officially been sold at BoomTown Market, and she’s not stopping there.

“I don’t know how to give up,” she said before bursting out laughing. “Probably if I had, I would have cried myself to sleep and left this town a long time ago. But now that I’m here, my feet are planted in the ground. I will grow like a tree.

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