NYC network helps local Black-owned businesses survive

Chef Keesha O'Galdez, owner of Gourmet Diva Inc. who received financial assistance from WNYC.
Photo courtesy Keesha O'Galdez

As businesses struggled to survive during the pandemic, a survey showed that Black-owned businesses were twice as likely than their white counterparts to close for good, leading a coalition of business institutions to provide much-needed support.

With financial commitments from Bank of America and IBM, United Way of New York City (UWNYC) launched the Together We Thrive (TWT): Black Business Network, a broad collection of government, nonprofit and corporate partners to support Black-owned businesses in New York City.

“Black businesses are key drivers of local neighborhood economies, and yet remain on the margins of the City’s economy—often not reached by traditional government or private support services or financing, nor equipped to take advantage of City, State, and Federal COVID relief support,” said Sheena Wright, president and CEO of United Way of New York City. “We are grateful to Bank of America for their standout investment, and commitment to a just and resilient recovery. Together We Thrive will strengthen Black-owned businesses, which is one of the keys to reducing racial wealth inequality and helping our neighborhoods achieve self-sufficiency.”

Black-owned businesses only received 2% of federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to help businesses offset payroll costs and other operational expenses, compared to 83% for white businesses. From February 2020 to April 2020, the number of active Black business owners nationally dropped by 41% compared to 17% for white business owners. By June 2020, the number of active Black business owners was still down by 19% despite some initial rebounds.

One of the businesses the coalition helped was Gourmet Diva Inc. of the South Bronx. Gourmet Diva is a multi-faceted cooking company run by Chef Keesha O’Galdez, offering educational services, online cooking classes, virtual events and much more.

O’Galdez, 41, who has operated Gourmet Diva for a decade, told the Bronx Times that when COVID-19 arrived it put her in a tough spot. For years she had catered small parties and business events, but throughout 2020 and part of 2021 everyone was shuttered home leaving her to struggle to find clientele.

“How can we service people if we can’t see them,” she said. “A lot shifted to online service and teaching people how to cook.”

O’Galdez figured the pandemic would last a few weeks and everything would return to status quo. Boy was she wrong.

Sensing the gravity of the situation, she pivoted her business model and began posting cooking videos online.

“It was weird because you’re figuring out the technology behind it and hoping everything goes well,” the chef said.

According to O’Galdez, the first few months of the pandemic felt like the recession in 2008, when she was laid off from her career in the nonprofit tech industry. But she quickly got used to the virtual setting and created a studio in her kitchen where she does shows twice a week. This helped her connect with other chefs, meet new clients and garner the attention of TWT.

The program set her up with Facebook’s summer intern program in which young people studying digital marketing work with small businesses to gain experience. O’Galdez’s intern helped with Gourmet Diva’s social media marketing efforts. Additionally, the coalition gave her a business mentor from the Pace Small Business Development Center, which provides technical assistance to help businesses reopening, and culturally relevant peer-to-peer mentorship to help address specific business challenges.

“I really did thrive in this crisis that we went through,” she said.

O’Galdez has learned to love the culinary world. With the help of United Way, she has expanded her brand and helped people nationwide learn how to cook. O’Galdez praised the program for its assistance and credits them for helping her stay afloat during the pandemic.

“For my colleagues going through the struggle, there is hope in this,” O’Galdez said. “There’s always something to do in the culinary field.”

Reach Jason Cohen at jcohen@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes. 

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