In early July, restaurateur Victoria Tyson opened her Philadelphia eatery, Victoria’s Kitchen, for the first time since the first days of COVID-19. As she cut a ceremonial ribbon in front of a crowd of reporters and well-wishers, she announced that she planned to overcome a lack of capital and staffing — the obstacles that had kept her from re-opening sooner — by investing in e-commerce technology and recruitment and retention training.
How would she do it? With a $10,000 grant from the brand-new Black Restaurant Accelerator Program, a partnership between the PepsiCo
Three weeks later, she’s already put her money to work.
“This program and grant even out the playing ground for Black business owners,” she says. “It also means me and people like me are given a fighting chance.”
Tyson is the first recipient of the grant, part of a more than $400 million commitment PepsiCo made to support Black communities in June 2020. Noting that since February 2020, 41% of Black-owned businesses have closed indefinitely or permanently, compared with just 17% of white-owned businesses, NUL executives say Black restaurants help form the lifeblood of their neighborhoods.
“Restaurants are gathering places and hubs of the community … that drive energy and activity,” says CEO Marc Morial.
And yet, Morial says, only 2% of black-owned businesses received funding through the first round of the federal pandemic-response Paycheck Protection Program. Like so many of her Black business colleagues, Taylor applied but watched helplessly as funds designated for small businesses got used up by multinational corporations.
The racial reckoning that shook the globe a few months into the pandemic made many companies, like PepsiCo, realize they need to do much more to improve social and working conditions for their customers and employees of color.
Norial says the drinks manufacturer approached him with the first offer of passthrough funding — instead of programming support — he’s received in his decades-long career.
“This is different,” he says. “These are equity grants for helping restaurant owners get back on their feet. They can use it to make payroll, stock inventory, buy a new stove or equipment. Anything to make the restaurant profitable.”
While PepsiCo has set specific goals to further diversify its workforce and foster a more actively inclusive workplace culture, its track record is already more impressive than most. For example, Hispanic representation on the board is 23.1%, which over indexes Latinos’ 18.5% of the American population, and at 15.4%, Black representation over indexes the overall African-American population of 13.4%.
In 1989, PepsiCo became the first company to air a commercial entirely in Spanish with no subtitles or dubbing — during the Grammy awards. Its hiring of an Indian woman as CEO in 2006 made it the first multinational corporation to name a female to that position. (Indra Nooyi also chaired the board for a brief period.) And in the 1960s, PepsiCo’s promotion of a man named Russell Harvey from the all-Black sales force it created in the 1940s made him the first Black vice president of a major corporation.
The company is not without its missteps. In 2017, it apologized and pulled a commercial starring reality TV star Kendall Jenner that critics said made light of the Black Lives Matter movement. Currently, the website Comparably says unverified users who claim to work at PepsiCo give it a B- grade for diversity, which the site says places it only in the top 40% of US businesses with more than 10,000 employees.
Meanwhile, Morial says PepsiCo makes no business demands on grant recipients, who are selected by NUL across the 12 cities it serves. NUL screens applicants for, among other factors, viability and willingness to accept business advice. Morial says his organization has counted approximately 1,000 Black restaurant owners in those cities, cooking and serving up everything from casual Asian food to a white-linen experience.
Tyson emails, “Black people are hustlers. We can make a dollar out of fifteen cents, LoL, but when it comes to the necessary business skills that will allow us to be bankable and competitive we lack those skills. We just haven’t been taught them. But!!! The Black Restaurant Accelerator Program will help to change that dynamic.”