Inspiring Evolution of the Bay Area’s Black Owned Joints & Food Culture

Cheetah Celebrates Black History

Inspiring Evolution of the Bay Area’s Black Owned Joints & Food Culture

February is Black History Month and we’re taking a break from our usual industry insights to celebrate and amplify black owned joints – of which the Bay Area is home to thousands!  

With 60% of restaurants owned by people of color, the Bay Area’s black community with its cultural roots and delicious soul food is a true pillar of the community. 

The black community’s resilience is as steadfast today as it was 100 years ago. Over the past two years, black communities have been hit disproportionately hard by Covid-19, received the least support, and came together under the Black Lives Matter movement to fight for justice in our ‘modern’ society. 

Despite it all, black-owned restaurants have ‘cut more mustard’ than most during these past two years, with 28% doing what it takes to reopen twice or more

This week we pay tribute to the chronicles that have defined what food really means for California’s black population and the Bay Area community at large. 

California’s Black Community Has a Long History

The Black community in California was largely established by veterans of the gold rush in the mid 1800’s. Horrifically but expectedly, most arrived as slaves, many with an entrepreneurial bent  and hopes of building a new life. 

Later, during the Great Migration, between 1910 and 1970, roughly 6 million black Americans fled the South for more welcoming locations. Many reached California, and introduced the culinary staples that reminded them of home, like delicious Po’ Boy sandwiches and comforting Gumbo stew.

During the mid-1960s, the term “soul food” emerged, representing the deep sense of nurturing through flavor and loving preparation black cuisine created. As the wonderful (and entertaining) Federation Cookbook: a Collection of Tested Recipes by the Colored Women of Southern California (1910) sets forth in its opening poems, “food was rich, and meant to soothe the battered souls”. 

Black Oaklanders Create the Best Jazz and BBQ in the Nation

In addition to food, the black community also expressed their story through music. In the ‘70s, 13.4% of San Francisco’s residents were black and the musical scene was growing! Decades earlier, the Fillmore district in San Francisco was the birthing ground of one of the largest jazz scenes on the west coast, contributing to the popularization of the genre alongside New Orleans. 

In a fusion of smoke, sauce and beats, Everett & Jones BBQ was founded in 1973 in Oakland by Dorothy Everett, her nine children, and son-in-law Jones. 50 years later, the family still runs three locations with live blues and jazz music, and of course mouth watering BBQ, considered by many to be the best in the entire United States. 

By 2019, the Black population in San Francisco had declined to a mere 6%, and neighboring Oakland became home to a large portion of the black community, with 25% of Oaklanders being black. 

It’s no wonder that today, the vast majority of Yelp’s top black owned restaurants in the Bay Area can be found there. 

Black Panthers Fight for Food Justice in Black Communities

The Black Panthers were Oaklanders, born and bred, and a major part of their social programs fought for food-justice. Noticing that many impoverished children in their community were literally fainting at school due to malnutrition, the Panthers created the Free Breakfast for Children Program in ‘69. 

On weekends, thousands of bags with chicken, noodles, beans, and eggs were given away by the Panthers to black families in Berkeley, while another program assisted the elderly in purchasing food, and developed a string of cooperative groceries. 

Many of today’s community food organizations in The Bay Area attribute their roots to the Black Panthers. Nonprofit Spiral Gardens in Berkeley, for example, sells specialty herbs and vegetables, typical to African, Caribbean and Southern cuisine. 

The Freedom Farmers Market showcases black farmers of crops associated with black heritage, like yams and okra. These black powered initiatives combat food-deserts that disproportionately occur in black communities.

Black Owned Restaurants Triumph Despite COVID-19

Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. While many establishments, like Cafe International, have been an integral part of the foodie scene in SF for over 30 years and have been able to make it through the pandemic, not all have been so lucky. 

Data released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in August 2020 identified that Black owned businesses across the nation were hit twice as hard during the first months of the pandemic, with 41% closing doors, compared to a 22% general average.

Part of the reason for this was that the federal government’s PPP support loans for small businesses, administered as part of the CARES act, reached a lower proportion of black owned businesses than white owned. 

Many Covid-19 hotspots also erupted in communities of color, leading to more lockdowns that devastated restaurants’ cash flow. One study found that black people in California had a statistically 2.7 times higher chance of hospitalization when exposed to the virus. 

Nevertheless, black owned restaurateurs have found ways to overcome and serve their communities. California and Florida are the only two states in which black restaurants have not declined in large numbers overall. That said, it is only with consistent patronage and support that they will continue to thrive.

Bay Area Black Owned Restaurants Continue to Serve the Community

Soul food, jazz and social action have created a culture of collaboration and responsibility typical of black communities. A few extraordinary people have gone the extra mile to serve the communities they are part of, both in the kitchen and on the streets.

One such individual is Claire Mack who was the first black woman to join San Mateo’s City Council, and later went on to become the city’s first black Mayor, serving for three terms. Now at age 83, she continues to share with the community, selling her renowned crunch cakes directly from her home.

Home of Chicken and Waffles Makes It All the Way to the Mayor’s Office

Home of Chicken and Waffles in Oakland, is another example of how serving the community goes hand in hand with soul food. 

Derreck Johnson has made his restaurant a hub that does good for the community. Home of Chicken and Waffles does this regularly by forging strong relationships with community members, activist groups, charities, and other restaurants, as well as hiring formerly incarcerated individuals with lower employment prospects. 

Derreck fights for social change in everything he does, from his hiring and training practices, to his community organization against restrictive policies and in pursuit of the small business loans that were meant to make their way to restaurants, such as his and his neighbors’, last year. 

We’re happy to see him continue to charge full speed ahead towards positive change, even running for mayor of Oakland in 2022.

Yelp and Black Tech Entrepreneurs Makes Finding Black Owned Restaurants Easier

Yelp, one of the leading 3rd party delivery apps, is headquartered in San Francisco. Their 2021 data shows a whopping 3,000%+ YoY (year over year) surge in searches for black owned businesses, indicating that diners are keen to guzzle up great eats that support their values

To help patrons find black owned restaurants, Yelp launched a searchable ownership ethnicity attribute. Operators who openly identify as black reportedly enjoy a 14.5% average increase in traffic on the app. 

For those seeking alternatives to the mainstream delivery apps, several notable black entrepreneurs are also entering this space. 

Black and Mobile is a black-powered app and delivery service that partners exclusively with black-owned restaurants. PlatePick is another new app to look out for, created by Bayareafoodz Instagram sensation Darion Frazier. PlatePick focuses on home chefs and independent restaurants, and charges only 5% commission, vs. the 20%+ that major apps charge. 

Vegan Mob Makes Black Community’s Health Top Priority

Oakland’s homegrown chef and rapper Toriano Gordon is on a mission to empower his community by making soul food that is affordable, but also healthy. 

His restaurant and food-truck, Vegan Mob, serves meatless soul food that has die-hard carnivores lining up to taste the plant-based gumbo and vegan mac-n-cheese. 

If the increase in Yelp searches for vegan (2,142%) and black-owned restaurants (721%) this past year is anything to go by, Toriano is on to something big.

Can’t Get Enough of That Soul Food

This year, Black History Month comes after a long period of rising awareness to the struggles and contribution of black communities. Restaurant patrons are eager to support black owned food establishments and have all the means to do so. Heck, there are even lists of lists of marvelous black owned restaurants in the Bay Area. 

As black heritage continues to become a cornerstone for American culture and ethics, the endeavors of black owned restaurants, food-trucks, pop-ups, and caterers, are making the nation’s future look brighter, and fairer, than ever. 

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