RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Wednesday the RVA Black Restaurant Experience (RVA BRE) launched an online store to help support black-owned businesses in the Richmond area impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Co-founder of the BRE, Amy Wentz, says RVA Tourism partnered with the organization to make sure the effort possible in addition to raising money for local restaurants through crowdfunding.
"The first priority of restaurants is to maintain the safety of their staff and guests; this is to provide money for our restaurants that have yielded a loss of revenue,” Wentz said.
The online store will feature merchandise like sweatshirts, hoodies, and duffle bags with the RVA BRE logo. Wentz says all of the proceeds generated from online purchases will be funneled back into an emergency fund for the RVA which will be used to support its 35 participating restaurants.
“Not only are our participating restaurants going to receive funds also our food truck operators and our catering companies because they’re at a loss as well,” Wentz said. We’re operating from a point of every little bit helps so we may not be able to give them thousands of dollars, but if we’re able to give them something that maybe keeps the lights on or pay that extra rent, or maybe provide resources to an employee that’s been furloughed it’s just all about pitching in to do the best we can."
Lester Johnson is the owner of Mama J’s in Richmond could potentially benefit from this online store.
Johnson says while he has been able to stay afloat amidst weeks of COVID-19 related restrictions, he’s not sure how much longer he can continue operating with limited resources and business.
“It’s been a challenge like I said just trying to figure out how to survive, we’re definitely relying on our loyal customer base to keep us going at this point,” Johnson said. ”It’s kind of like having one hand tied behind your back, actually in this particular case, it’s like having both hands tied behind your back."
Johnson says the pandemic struck at a crucial time for black restaurants in Richmond just a week after RVA BRE’s Black Restaurant week event. He says many businesses are having to rely on the boost they got from the event just to survive the pandemic.
“You see a significant spike in sales that week, so it was real deflating to see have that happen when it happened,” Johnson said.
It’s not only the expenses for the business this ow they survive this how they pay their mortgages and car notes and feed their kids and put clothes on their backs.
Johnson says Mama J’s has been able to survive because it already had a built-in take-out system in addition to online ordering. He hopes that the money generated from the businesses will go to black businesses that are especially hurting from the lack of foot traffic.
"Everybody doesn’t need it, but again, the bottom line is the RVA BRE put forth the effort and for some of these restaurants every little bit helps,” Johnson said. “We’re talking about maybe being able to pay a utility bill or put something towards your rent so whatever they raise this is definitely one of that situation where it’s the thought that counts.”
If you would like to support the RVA BRE click HERE.
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