Black Restaurant Accelerator Program offers targeted assistance often missing for minority business owners

The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on Angela Sharpley’s small business.

Her Pipe’N Hot Grill seafood restaurant, founded in 2010, had just opened in a new East Side location in the business incubator at Glenvillage a few weeks before pandemic lockdowns shuttered dining rooms.

Surrounded by retail shops that remained closed even after the restaurant reopened for takeout a couple of months later, foot traffic remained poor.

Then, she had to deal with construction woes as the city dug up their street for several months, which reduced their community visibility and kept customers at bay.

This brought Sharpley to focus on her budding brand of Bamba iced teas, which she continues to work on scaling up to stock in retail stores and some other locations that are in the works.

Regardless, cash flow creeped to a trickle. So, Sharpley sought financial relief from a number of areas. But getting it would be yet another challenge.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund never did her any good. Hers was among the two-thirds of applications requesting RRF dollars that never resulted in any money.

Sharpley’s business bank – a large and prolific regional financial institution in this market that has touted their relationship with her but that she is reluctant to call out publicly – has repeatedly declined her for a credit line of even a few thousand dollars because of her existing debt- to-income ratio.

And she ended up fighting with the Small Business Administration over an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, the full amount of which didn’t come until early this year. She first applied in 2020. The funds she did receive were immediately sent back out to cover existing debt payments that have never slowed down.

“Instead of being able to use EIDL for inventory, manufacturing or something else to help accelerate the business, we had to catch up,” Sharpley said. “All the money we owe all these people, we had to use it that way instead of being able to create another revenue stream.”

She did end up collecting a few other micro loans and a couple thousand dollars from the Paycheck Protection Program, but all were small and provided only nominal relief.

Sharpley was treading water at best, which felt all the more frustrating at a time when so many other businesses seemed to be finding funding for significant capital improvements. She was fortunate enough to remain in business. But the struggles rarely let up.

“We tried to put out for funding that made sense,” she said, “but there are just not that many options at all.”

Sharpley’s experience is often par for the course for small-business owners, especially Black and minority entrepreneurs who tend to struggle with accessing traditional sources of funding and credit.

That’s what makes efforts like the Black Restaurant Accelerator Program so meaningful.

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