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Alfonso “Ali” Wright and Jamila McGill on operating a business in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.

How one Black-owned restaurant in Brooklyn was saved by the Black Lives Matter protests

Brooklyn Tea House in Bed-Stuy neighborhood received a grant when Black-owned businesses surged in popularity in May

Brooklyn Tea, located in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, is a single-unit tearoom that, early on in the pandemic, boomed into an online business the owners Alfonso “Ali” Wright and Jamila McGill say they could have never imagined.

The tearoom has been open just one year and, during the pandemic, received a grant of $10,000 from Fiserv, a company that helped distribute grants to Black-owned businesses amounting to $10 million. Though Brooklyn Tea House began as an online business in 2017, the physical shop was jeopardized by the pandemic’s business limitations.

Wright and McGill were faced with tough realities when George Floyd was killed by a police officer in May. Protests followed and directed attention to Black-owned businesses.

Many Black-owned businesses were saved by the rise in attention after the protests against the police, and Brooklyn Tea House was no exception, though the movement took an emotional toll on the co-owners.

Here is their story:

“[Right now,] We are staying busy which is amazing considering the tough challenges small businesses are facing during COVID-19. We are staying optimistic about the health of our family and community and doing our best to balance work and laugh more. 

At the top of the year, we were celebrating our one-year anniversary. We were starting to get the neighborhood recognition and foot traffic that we had hoped for and it was thrilling. Then COVID-19 forced us to shut down indoor dining, which was the heart of our business at the time.

Our daily sales declined drastically, and we had to cut employee hours and store hours. The decline in revenue lasted until we got some exciting press coverage in June that bolstered our online sales. Since then, we have pivoted our business to online retail and have been able to bring back our staff to their regular hours. 

This rise in support of Black-owned businesses underpinned by the outcry for social justice has given us access to corporations and business opportunities that likely would not have happened without the recent call to action. We are now receiving financial and community support that we could have never dreamed of getting.

Companies are showing their investment in change and racial equity and it's been changing the financial trajectory of small businesses, like ours.

We were fortunate to receive a grant as part of the Fiserv Back2Business program, an initiative to help minority-owned small businesses impacted by the pandemic.

When we received the grant from Fiserv, we were able to lay down the burden of paying rent that became a growing concern with the removal of indoor dining. We got to turn away from the fear of financial strain and focus on how to grow our business through social media.

We have learned that being in partnership with other small businesses is an undervalued resource. It is easy to stay stuck in the bubble of your business and never reach out to others. Partnering with others provides the opportunity to grow your audience and to gain perspective and advice for those in your same shoes.”

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