In the past week, protests against police brutality have taken off in at least 140 cities across the country in the wake of the arrest and killing of George Floyd, and some have been met with increasingly violent responses from police. Many restaurant owners in these cities have shown their support for protesters not only by posting words of encouragement on social media but also by donating funds to organizations focused on racial justice — even as many food businesses were damaged by vandals and looters.
Gandhi Mahal, a restaurant based in Minneapolis, was severely damaged by protesters last week, but the owner's 18-year-old daughter posted a message of solidarity from her father: "Let my building burn, justice needs to be served."
That sentiment has since been echoed by several restaurateurs and business owners across the country.
Late Saturday night, after finding out that one of her restaurants had been damaged, the owner of Teaism, a small chain of tea houses in Washington, D.C., tweeted: “Before anyone puts a single word in our mouths. Black lives matter."
Restaurateurs pledge money to George Floyd's home state
George Floyd's death sent shockwaves from Minnesota out to the rest of the country — and restaurants on the East Coast, like Oxalis, a bistro in Brooklyn, New York, and Cadence, a New American eatery in Philadelphia, have sent portions of their profits to support Minnesota-based organizations focused on injustice.
Oxalis is donating 50% of all sales this week to Reclaim the Block, a Minneapolis-based organization committed to decreasing funds to the police and increasing community-based safety measures, and the Black Visions Collective, a Minnesota-based black, trans, and queer-led organization committed to dismantling systems of oppression and violence.
The restaurant is committed to raising $10,000, which will be split between these two organizations, Steve Wong, Oxalis' director of operations, told TODAY Food. If they don't meet that goal through sales, Wong said he will make up the difference.
"When we consider how the pandemic is already disproportionately taking the lives of those in black communities, in addition to the violence and racism highlighted by the events of the past week, we see how these inequalities are interconnected and systemic," Wong said. "We believe that financial support should go first and foremost to black and BIPOC-led organizations that best represent the full set of issues facing black communities."
Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske, the chefs and owners of New York City's Wildair, Contra and Peoples Wine, announced Friday that they would be donating their weekend sales to Reclaim the Block as well as the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which helps those who have been arrested post bail. The restaurateurs raised $20,000 in total.
In an as-told-to essay for Bon Appetit, Stone wrote, "I don’t know if our restaurants are going to make it through the next year or the next couple years. So if we’re going to go out, if this is the last thing we ever do, it might as well mean something. We’re not going to talk about how broken the industry is or how little support we’re getting from the government. That seems silly right now. Now, more than ever, we’re going to do what represents us. We’re going to support the people on the front lines of change."
Superiority Burger, a vegetarian eatery in New York, announced on Instagram that it would be adding a day onto its service this week and donating all of the income from its most profitable day to the Black Visions Collective.
Philadelphia-based Cadence posted a note pledging unity on Instagram: "In solidarity with #justiceforgeorgefloyd and the #blacklivesmatter movement," it will be donating all of its proceeds from its "duck dinner" on its takeout menu to Reclaim the Block and the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Food businesses are making a difference in their local communities
According to The New York Times, just a few blocks from where Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, the owners of Pimento Jamaican Kitchen packed kits for demonstrators filled with gloves, face masks and face shields, eyewash kits, gauze and other first-aid items, to help people protect themselves from both coronavirus and any possible injury that could occur from crowd dispersing methods used by police, such as flash-bangs, tear gas and rubber bullets.
“If people are going to be out, people have the right to demonstrate,” Scott McDonald, a manager at Pimento, told the Times. “If that’s what you are going to do and you’re going to exercise that right, do it as safely as possible.”
Despite being closed for two months because of the pandemic, Canter's Deli, a Jewish-style delicatessen in Los Angeles that opened in 1931, put up a sign supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and offered water bottles and food to protesters and police over the weekend, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Spinelli's Pizza, a small chain of pizzerias located primarily in Louisville, Kentucky, has had to close two of its six locations due to revenue loss during the pandemic. However, owner Brian Gaughan decided to hold a fundraiser this past Sunday at his two remaining Louisville locations and his Tempe, Arizona, location to benefit Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd Memorial Fund.
“Breonna Taylor was a local woman who was killed by police in March in Louisville," Gaughan told TODAY. "It was so close to home.”
He committed 25% of those stores' earnings that day, donating just over $1,800 to Black Lives Matter from his Louisville locations and about $850 to the George Floyd Memorial Fund from the Tempe location.
“Rule No. 1 in the restaurant business is politics and religion don’t get involved, so against our better judgment, me and my partner out in Arizona talked … and (decided that) enough is enough with the police brutality, especially towards minorities," Gaughan explained. "We had to be on the right side of history with this.”
While he has been praised by many for his actions on social media, he's also received death threats for supporting Black Lives Matter. A handful of people have called his shop, "saying they’re gonna come down and take care of us," but no one has threatened him or his staff physically, Gaughan said.
"We'll be fine with the death threats," he continued. "It’s time for police reform in one way or another.”
In Austin, Hank's coffee shop posted on Instagram that it would be donating an unspecified amount to the Equal Rights Initiative, an organization committed to ending mass incarceration, excessive punishment and racial inequality in the U.S, writing in the graphic, "This is a start but we know it's not enough."
Foxtail Supper Club, a digital dining club also based in Austin, posted that all profits from the month of June will be donated to the NAACP. And Pasta Social Club, which hosts virtual pasta-making workshops from Austin, will be donating 20% of proceeds from its classes this month (and possibly more) to the NAACP, as well.
Tusk, a Middle-Eastern restaurant in Portland, Oregon, announced on Instagram that it would be making financial donations to a host of organizations: the NAACP, the ACLU, the Minnesota Freedom Fund, Reclaim the Block, Black Visions Collective, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors and exposes hate groups and other extremists throughout the U.S., and Campaign Zero, a policy-focused campaign to end police brutality in America.
Also in Portland, Eem, a Thai-barbecue restaurant, penned a lengthy post on Instagram asking people to "stand alongside the members of the Black community who will continue to shoulder the unrelenting burden of prejudice long after the stream of social media well wishing has stopped," and vowing to donate 10% of sales this week to Campaign Zero.
"We ask you to sit in your current discomfort and give it thorough examination," the post continues. "Do not avoid or distract yourself from the difficult questions. This time is about one community, and we stand with them."
Talat Market, a Thai restaurant in Atlanta, wrote on its Instagram that it would be making a donation to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a local organization focused on bailing out protestors who fight against injustice.
Also in Atlanta, Koinonia Coffee, an online coffee retailer that delivers for free to its local community, had a counter service location, but that has been closed since the onset of the pandemic. Despite that, the company has committed all of its profits for the month of June to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. They will preemptively donate the money this week based on last month's sales numbers, totaling around $1,400, founder Eduardo Lowe told TODAY, because "they most likely need the funds now." If this month's sales are higher than last month's, he said, they will donate the difference.
"I added a #BlackLivesMatter sticker to all of our products and had a conversation with my wife and partner, Jessica Lowe, about how we may lose customers. Her response was, 'So then we lose them!" said Lowe.
"That is how we feel, this issue is way more important than how customers feel," he continued. "This issue is about the life and death of our black friends and family members. So if you don’t want to support us because it makes you uncomfortable then don’t.
"If our company sinks because of the decision, then so be it! We don’t want to be a part of a system that strips us of our empathy and compassion for others and continues to silence black voices."