For many African-American restaurant owners serving food is more than just a trendy pastime or path to a paycheck.
"It’s a sense of culture and we want to be able to continue to uplift that culture particularly now during Black History Month," State Rep. Chyna Tyler, D-Boston, said.
Tyler kicked off the Boston Black Restaurant Challenge from the State House where she was joined by restaurant owners struggling to survive through the pandemic.
“We are in the hardest phase that we’ve seen so far with omicron,” Mika Winder of the Pearl said.
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State lawmakers have channeled ARPA funds and other avenues of money to restaurants in general and Black-owned businesses specifically, including $350,000 for the Boston Black Hospitality Coalition.
"We want to make sure that everyone understands that that money is available, That there’s opportunities there," Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, D-Boston, said.
But as the Black Boston Restaurant Coalition knows - the community now needs to get involved.
"And so what we’re calling on all residents and visitors to do is visit the 70+ Black restaurants and bars in the city of Boston," Nia Grace of Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen said.
All those restaurants and details of the challenge are outlined on the website: bostonblackrestaurants.com
"We really need somebody to care, to be honest with you," Royal Smith of District 7 Tavern in Roxbury said.
Smith said he is barely surviving. Lacking deep financial resources or coming from an established district like the North End or the Seaport, he said many of these Black-owned neighborhood restaurants are overlooked.
"I feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but how long is the tunnel?" Smith asked.
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Cheryl Straughter of Roxbury’s Soleil Restaurant summed it up best.
"We’d like you to come out, dine, check out different cuisine, help shore up our revenue and keep us going," she said.
The Boston establishment highlighted this first week of the challenge will be Wallys Café in the South End.
"My grandfather started this club because he wanted a place where everybody could come and enjoy entertainment," Paul Poindexter explained.
The café, which is the first black owned jazz club in New England, was opened in 1947 by Paul Poindexter’s grandfather, Joseph Walcott. The club had been going strong for more than 70 years, until COVID-19 hit.
"We are going to reopen. It’s just that safety is paramount," Poindexter said.
He said the restaurant challenge will be helpful for his business and the community.
In the meantime, he can envision exactly how the club will soon look again, and hopes to reopen in the coming weeks.
"Busy. Packed. People from all over the world. Enjoying live music."
For more information on the challenge, click here.