SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The outbreak of COVID-19 in America, followed anger and outrage fueled by the actions of recent discrimination and injustice leading to the death of George Floyd, as well as Breonna Taylor both killed by a police officer has caused strain on business owners across the country. Safety and health guidelines have kept customers out of restaurants, while some business owners found ways to adapt to current conditions, sadly many businesses were forced to close operations or reduce their workforce by a significant amount.

In Utah, small and minority-owned businesses are vital to the overall economy, but when a global pandemic affects how and if consumers will spend money it’s challenging for these owners to serve the public.

Roody Salvator, owner of Makaya caters, has been serving the Greater Wasatch Front and Summit County since 2015, the business started as a farmer’s market and then progressed into a catering company servicing private events, weddings and a clientele of employers specializing in Haitian food. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Salvator has had to transition his business into a take and bake model to stay afloat, and most recently has received certification to begin a food truck offering. Salvator, originally from Haiti tells ABC4 “small business owners like me in the food industry don’t have the financial backing like a major restaurant chain would. If we don’t have the community backing, our business will eventually die.” The pandemic has brought personal financial hardship as well, Luckily for Salvator, he was able to resort to his savings to take care of bills and his family.

Makaya Caters courtesy: Facebook

Benjamin Stalling is the owner of Benji’s Bar-B-Cue Shack, located at 3245 South State Street in Salt Lake City. He says as a black business owner in Utah it’s important for everyone to go out and support the community of minority-owned businesses.

“I like to cook for people; sharing is caring so people can do something as simple as buying food from local businesses and share it with family friends,” said Stalling.

Sharing is one way of spreading awareness about what locally, minority-owned establishments offer.

Benji’s Bar-B-Cue Shack has also adapted to a new way of serving customers by offering drop-off catering services.

“Everything is in the air right now, as I really feel that Utah will see another wave of the virus, so to prepare we are strictly catering large orders of meat and other items from our menu,” said Stalling. Customers can place their order and pick it up at the Bar-B-Cue Shack or have it either delivered to their home or office. For Benji’s this model allows the business to produce more mass orders, in which many customers are buying and sharing the food with neighbors.

With the recent peaceful protests that eventually turned into chaotic actions in Salt Lake City, many businesses in the Downtown corridor became targets of those taking out their frustrations during a riot. Stalling’s businesses experienced those heinous acts, even before the demonstrations when their food truck was vandalized at a South Salt Lake storage location. “Other property was damaged as well at the storage unit,” said Stalling.

As these Utah business owners try to maintain operations in some form to keep customers coming back, what more can be done from state and local officials?

“It would be helpful to see more programs and grants available for black and minority-owned businesses. I would like to see nonprofit organizations show support through training and consultation to help lift us up” said Roody Salvator.

The cause of the recent protest demonstrations across Utah has affected people of all backgrounds, Salvator said “seeing Mr. George Floyd killed by police officers has affected me personally as I watched a man’s life escape his body in that viral video as he screamed and pleaded that he couldn’t breathe. But, as much as I don’t agree with rioting, I must say for the most part the energy of the demonstrations have been positive.”

Benjamin Stalling says he is all for the peaceful protesting and understands why people are upset “it’s really challenging when you’re raising your kids and they ask if this is real life seeing what’s happening in the world and the injustice. A lot of us are scared, and the rioting only causes drama and can also hurt businesses.”

So how do these owners move forward? Stalling says his restaurant works with a ton of partners and luckily the landlord of the space he rents has been extremely understanding given the current financial situation with COVID-19 in the state.

Stalling says it’s best to help your neighbors, and even your competitors, “I recently met with Pat’s BBQ, a competing business on ways we can grow our individual establishments thru this pandemic, we met up and each brought food from our respective business to come together and brainstorm different ideas. All of us minority owned businesses are doing what we can, just trying to make it” said Stalling.

Benji’s BBQ courtesy: Facebook

In regards to the immediate future, both owners plan to continue with their current model. “We need to make sure we’re staying safe, we don’t to risk anyone catching the virus. Once things are safe and 100% open again then we will look at easing back to normal operations” said Stalling.

Here’s a list of other black-owned businesses:

  • African Restaurant
  • African Spice
  • Balabe Senegalese Cuisine
  • Benji’s BBQ
  • Corner Stop
  • Cut to the Taste
  • Dawgz-N-Leenks
  • Eddy’s Magic Spoon
  • Horn of Africa
  • Icy Mountain Shaved Ice
  • Jamaica’s Kitchen
  • James’s Gourmet Pies
  • Joe’s Cafe
  • Lovee’s Cakes
  • Munchies SLC
  • Makaya Caters
  • Namash Swahili Cuisine
  • Nutrition and Ethnic foods
  • Sauce Boss Southern Kitchen
  • Seabird Bar
  • Smokey’s BBQ
  • Taste of Louisiana
  • Yoko Ramen
Tracy Smith
Curtis Booker, joined the ABC4 family in January of 2019 as a Digital Content Producer. In May of 2019, he transitioned into learning the inner workings of becoming a news producer assisting with various shows. Curtis most recently rejoined the Digital team as a multi-media journalist in February of 2020.

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