Local restaurant benefits from program committed to saving black-owned businesses

JACKSONVILLE, Florida. – According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, 41% of black-owned businesses have closed since the start of the pandemic compared to 17% of white businesses.

The National Urban League and Pepsi have teamed up to reverse that trend by committing $10 million, over the next five years, to help 500 Black-owned businesses across the country stay afloat.

Connie and Manch Kersee are the owners of Forks on the Left Catering.

It started in 1998 and has grown into a full service company also providing catering services to local schools.

Through the Black Restaurant Accelerator program, he received the help he needed to continue his mission during the pandemic.

“Hundreds of thousands of meals, breakfasts and lunches and snacks for six schools in the Jacksonville area. So it has become a big passion for us, feeding the kids and making sure they get the food and nutritional values ​​they need for the day,” said Connie Kersee.

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Forks of the Left Catering was poised to expand before the pandemic hit.

From catering to managing food service with local schools in River City, the company had big plans for 2020.

“It kind of took the wind out of that sail,” said Connie Kersee, recalling when the pandemic badly affected her business.

Once it hit, the business had to pivot and move into meal preparation, online ordering and deliveries to stay afloat.

Struggling to grow their business, the Kersees have had to look for new ways to secure additional funds to keep going during these uncertain times.

“There aren’t many doors for African Americans to get that kind of intensive help and someone to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to give you $10,000 to help you market your business or keep your employees afloat or these different things like that. It was a game-changer for us,” Manch Kersee said. “It was a lifeline for us.”

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That lifeline was the Pepsi Co Foundation’s Black Restaurant Accelerator program.

The foundation partners with the National Urban League to provide black restaurant owners across the country with capital, technical assistance, mentorship and other essential business tools.

“Only 2% of black-owned businesses received money in the first round of PEP loans. So, and if we go further, the playing field was not leveled before that. Before that, as Manch said, access to capital. Thus, Black-owned businesses were twice as likely to be denied loans from financial institutions, even though they were more than likely asking for less money. So for us, this is all part of our journey to racial equality. It’s part of our commitment to try to level the playing field for small businesses and help them succeed as well as white-owned businesses and really make America fairer,” said Charlene Denizard, Director of Philanthropy for North America from the Pepsi Co. Foundation.

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Without the subsidy, the Kersees said their business would be at least a year behind schedule.

“We would have tried to get loans, all these different things. And at this point right now, that would have been pretty disastrous. Best case scenario, Connie should have gone back to work full time and it would have been kind of a dream postponed at that time,” Manch Kersee said.

But thanks to this funding, Forks on the Left Catering was able to expand its marketing and update its equipment for major catering events.

“For a small business, it’s a challenge to be able to get the kind of grant that we got from them. I walk into the business with this stuff and if you don’t have equity in your home and all these different things. Especially in the restaurant and foodservice industry, it’s all about that. So black businesses often don’t know about services or how to bundle your offerings. And how to put your papers together,” Manch Kersee said.

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Since the program launched in 2021, it has supported 100 businesses with grants of $10,000 and 500 businesses have also received essential advice.

“Pepsi Co’s total commitment to Black and Hispanic-owned restaurants is $100 million. So we have other programs that we’ve expanded to, and our commitment is sincere, and we put our money in our mouths and we don’t just commit, we actually give the money to small businesses just like Fork on the Left,” Denizard said.

Through this program, Forks on the Left plans to build a kitchen commissary for other caterers and food industry people to have a commercial kitchen for their respective businesses.

He also wants to continue to focus on reducing food insecurity for children around Jacksonville.

To learn more about Forks of the Left Catering, you can Click here.

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You can find more information about the Black Restaurant Accelerator program and how to locate Black-owned businesses near you here: https://www.pepsidigin.com/.

Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax – All Rights Reserved.

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