The first time Nia Grace walked into Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen, she knew it was special.
“I knew what was going on here was more than food, more than alcohol, more than entertainment,” Grace told Morning Editing host Joe Mathieu this week about the restaurant she now owns. “We celebrate it all here. When you come into the walls, you can actually feel the spirit of what used to be and what still exists.”
The unique role Grace's restaurant and others play in their communities has been magnified by the pandemic, which has challenged the restaurant industry in unforeseeable ways. Grace says that the challenges are even greater for Black-owned businesses, which led her to help launch the Boston Black Hospitality Coalition over the summer to help Black-owned restaurants navigate business closures, securing loans, and making the move from dine-in to takeout.
The Coalition began its work with declaring a state of emergency. Grace says that Darryl’s and other Black-owned restaurants have been at a unique disadvantage throughout the pandemic, without the deep resources or backup plans that some well-established restaurants had in place to weather the disruptions of this year.
“As long as we’ve had this history in these communities, a lot of us were in fact new to our establishments,” Grace said, noting that she was in her second year of owning Darryl’s when the pandemic hit.
“Where we stand now, some of our businesses have yet to be able to open,” she said. “A lot of us have been trying to hang on with takeout. But it’s just not enough. We still sit in a position where we’re happy to be here and have these conversations, but the conversation for us is we need a little more help.”
Grace said that concrete assistance like grants — and not just loans and programs like the Paycheck Protection Program — are what these businesses need after a year of trying to adapt to takeout and outdoor dining, which come with the costs of buying furniture and building new spaces. She also says forgiveness from the government on things like local taxes and licensing fees would be a big help.
“Let’s get something really tangible that is not going to put us further in debt, but literally just give us that foot up,” Grace said. “Collectively, I feel the pain.”
LISTEN: Grace discusses the importance of Darryl's and other Black-owned restaurants in Boston.
Another challenge, from Grace's point of view, has been a lack of clarity from the state on concrete steps and benchmarks for re-opening indoor entertainment, live music and events — the lifeblood of many restaurants.
“Yes, the pandemic was new for everyone, none of us had ever lived through one before,” she said. “But after 12 months now, after a year, I cannot just sit here and be more than frustrated at this point with trying to figure out what’s next.”
This call for support is a reflection of how committed the city is to helping the Black community, according to Grace.
“This is our story. This is our history,” Grace said. “Black people in the city of Boston are definitely a part of Boston’s history and I know that the city cares about us enough to make sure that we’re here and that we have our safe spaces and we are able to share our culture. I know that the way we will get that done is an answer to this call for action and resources.”
Only eight liquor licenses in the city of Boston are Black-owned, and Grace says the pandemic has only highlighted these disparities.
"We've got a problem. It's bigger than me, it's bigger than any one business. This is a city issue."Nia Grace, Owner Of Darryl's Corner Bar & Kitchen
Grace praised the restaurant professionals and entrepreneurs she works with for their creativity and perseverance, but is calling for more support.
“We’re an optimistic people, as well as an industry, so I can’t help but try to see the other side of it [the pandemic],” she said. “While I have the optimism of us maybe going outdoors again, and offering some kind of entertainment, I know that we’re so limited on the other side. I’m optimistic that we’re turning a corner, but I need to hear more from the state.”
Audio story produced by Karen Marshall, Morning Edition Producer