September 09, 2021  

Giving Black restaurant owners the support to survive — and thrive

Learn how a partnership between The PepsiCo Foundation and the National Urban League is benefitting restaurateurs like Philadelphia's Victoria Tyson.

“I feel like it’s a miracle that we’re still here,” Victoria Tyson says.

The Philadelphia-based restaurateur is talking about Victoria’s Kitchen, the soul food eatery she’s run for the past 11 years. When the pandemic hit, Victoria worried she’d have to close up shop permanently — shutting the door on a lifelong dream first inspired by watching her uncles, who worked as chefs, experiment with new dishes. 

Victoria and C.D. Glin

Victoria with C.D. Glin, Vice President, The PepsiCo Foundation and Global Head of Philanthropy, PepsiCo.

But Victoria’s Kitchen has managed to keep its doors open seven days a week, serving up platters of jerked chicken, shrimp alfredo and much more — thanks in part to the Black Restaurant Accelerator Program. The PepsiCo Foundation partnered with civil rights organization the National Urban League to create the program, a joint $10 million initiative that aims to preserve, protect and support Black-owned businesses, providing 500 Black restaurant owners in 12 cities with funding, mentoring and technical assistance over the next five years.

“This program and grant even out the playing ground for Black business owners,” Victoria says. “It also means me and people like me are given a fighting chance.”

The pandemic’s impact on the more than 2.6 million Black-owned businesses in the United States has been devastating. Since February 2020, 41% have been forced to close indefinitely, compared to just 17% of white-owned businesses. Black businesses make up 10% of businesses in America and 30% of all minority-owned businesses, but systemic racism, lack of capital and historical exclusion all contribute to negatively impact Black business owners.

One of the program’s inaugural grant recipients, Victoria has made cooking her livelihood since she was 21. As a determined mother looking to make ends meet, she began cooking homemade meals for her neighbors and delivering them door-to-door — to rave reviews. She soon established a loyal client base at local barbershops. As her business grew, so did the Philadelphia community’s support of Victoria’s vision: A local masjid, or mosque, made its kitchen available, helping her start a neighborhood takeout and delivery business. From there, she moved into her first restaurant space and Victoria’s Kitchen was born. “The journey to owning my restaurant hasn’t been the glamorous life I imagined when I was a child,” she says. “But it’s been something better than glamorous – it’s been meaningful.”

This program and grant even out the playing ground for Black business owners.

A loyal following didn’t make her immune to the pandemic’s hardships, however. Victoria faced many of the challenges plaguing restaurant owners as they struggled to survive: creating an online presence with little-to-no guidance; setting up outdoor dining practically overnight; and navigating the intricacies of third-party delivery apps — which nearly paralyzed Victoria’s finances due to the steep fees involved. Victoria chose to raise her prices and avoid laying off any of her employees, ensuring they were able to provide for their own families.

For PepsiCo and the National Urban League, ensuring businesses like Victoria’s thrive is the goal. Victoria plans to use the Black Restaurant Accelerator Program’s financial support and knowledge to invest in recruitment and retention training as well as e-commerce, with the hopes of creating her own delivery app. “The money our customers spend with us will stay right in our community and support our neighbors,” she says.

“Success means nothing without having family, friends and a community to share it with,” she continues. “And now, this community includes the National Urban League, The PepsiCo Foundation and this program. It gives business owners that look like me the hope that not only can we make it, but we have people looking out for us to grow.”