A rallying cry in support of Black restaurant owners

Nicole Jones puts her passion for community service to work as the leader of Pepsi Dig In, an initiative to uplift Black restaurateurs.

 

Nicole Jones believes in taking action. After graduating from Hampton University, a historically Black university (HBCU) in Virginia, she started a scholarship program at her high school to encourage others to attend HBCUs. “I wanted to tell people about my experience and give them the tools and knowledge to get the same opportunities that I had,” she says.

Around the same time, she found a mentor whose words have stayed with her: “When I asked her to mentor me, she agreed to do so under one condition,” she says. “Any knowledge I learned, I had to give back to someone else.”

That's exactly what Nicole is doing as a Senior Marketing Manager for PepsiCo Foodservice Brand Building in Westchester, where she’s taken ownership of Pepsi Dig In, a multi-pronged initiative aimed at uplifting Black restaurant owners.

“Pepsi Dig In is a rallying cry. It’s a call to action for consumers to dig in and support Black restaurants, and it also speaks to what PepsiCo is doing as an organization — rolling up our sleeves and digging in to support Black-owned businesses,” she says. “It’s my first time completely leading a project, and that’s stretching me in a way I’m thankful for.”

The Pepsi Dig In program was conceived after the June 2020 announcement of PepsiCo’s Racial Equality Journey, a commitment to funnel more than $400 million into initiatives to help address the needs of the Black community over a five-year period. “I raised my hand and said, hey, I’m passionate about this and I want to help,” Nicole remembers.

I raised my hand and said, hey, I’m passionate about this and I want to help.

Part of what the Foodservice Brand Building team does is promote brands like Pepsi and Mountain Dew within restaurants, catering services and dining halls, which meant they had relationships with restaurant owners across the country. The team held virtual panels to find out what issues these businesses needed help with. “As we started understanding more about the challenges Black-owned restaurants face, we felt like there were three key problem areas that we were really equipped to address,” Nicole says.

Those three areas now make up Pepsi Dig In’s primary goals. The first is providing access to capital, training and mentorship for both aspiring and current restaurant owners. As part of this, The PepsiCo Foundation and the National Urban League partnered to offer $10 million in grants to Black-owned restaurants.

Nicole showing off her Hampton University pride on Election Day

Nicole wears a hat from her alma mater on Election Day.

The second is addressing the challenges and barriers that restaurants are currently facing, like optimizing for takeout and online ordering. Pepsi Dig In is piloting a program called Black Restaurants Deliver, which offers access to consultants who can advise on everything from website optimization to how to take mouth-watering photos of food.

Dig In’s third goal is generating greater awareness of Black-owned restaurants. In addition to a national marketing campaign featuring four Pepsi eateries, the program is providing support to Black-owned businesses that serve black restaurateurs, such as Eat Okra, an independent Black restaurant guide. Information for restaurateurs seeking support and ways for consumers to get involved are also available on Pepsi Dig In’s new website, which launched in March.

For Nicole, putting together this program has been a merger of some of her greatest passions: “I love marketing, I love working at PepsiCo and I care so much about helping the Black community,” she explains.

Ultimately, Pepsi Dig In aims to generate $100 million in sales for Black-owned restaurants by 2025. Dwight and Rose Harvey, whose Dallas-based barbecue spot Off the Bone was featured in a Pepsi Dig In ad that aired during the NFL playoffs, described being part of the initiative as “the opportunity of a lifetime” on phone calls with Nicole’s team.

It’s also an opportunity that’s kept Nicole and her team motivated: “We’ve been able to act as owners and trust ourselves and trust our gut and just keep going.” She’s inspired by knowing that Pepsi Dig In will help Black-owned kitchens thrive, and that her work can have a ripple effect, providing job opportunities and strengthening communities. “I’m working on something that’s so much bigger than me,” Nicole says, “and I don’t take that lightly.”

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