When Christian Brantley posted a black square on his restaurant’s Facebook page, he didn't expect any financial gain in return.
Brantley, who owns downtown Chandler’s West Alley BBQ, says he decided to participate in #BlackoutTuesday — a social media movement intended to amplify black voices — because he believes in the message the nationwide protests are trying to convey. In return, he says, “the Valley came out."
The social media effort has shone a spotlight on local black-owned businesses, Brantley’s included. West Alley ran out of food by 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and orders continued to pile up.
“We were just blown away by the community coming together to support us,” says Brantley, who also runs a location in Tennessee. “Just the fact that people are going above and beyond to capitalize on this protest peacefully by going and supporting black businesses, I think that’s amazing.”
Like most small businesses, West Alley was hit hard by the coronavirus as the Tennessee-style barbecue joint was forced to offer curbside and delivery only during Arizona’s peak months: March, April, and May. As a result, Brantley had to let go of several staff members to cut costs. He applied for and received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan and has been able to bring most of his staff back now that West Alley is open for dine-in.
Brantley’s business survived the pandemic only to be faced with nationwide protests, including several in Phoenix, that gave way to a statewide 8 p.m. curfew. Regardless, Brantley says the widespread protests in all 50 states “give [him] hope” that America can get on the right track.
He also says locals don’t have to spend money in order to support black-owned businesses right now.
“Leave a review if you’ve been there, give us exposure,” he suggests. “It doesn’t have to be a dollar amount. There’s so many things you could do to cause awareness for local black business owners in the Valley.”
Liking their social media pages or sharing posts are other free ways to help, he says.
Ken Smith, the owner of Rag’s Real Chicken & Waffles in Youngtown, says he also supports the protests but isn’t “down with all the breaking into stores.” More than a dozen people were arrested for looting Scottsdale Fashion Square on May 30.
Smith says he’s glad people are finally waking up and coming together to combat racism, and that this movement is about more than George Floyd.
“It’s been so long that we’ve been asleep,” he says. “Everybody can see now. We all as a people, we’re supposed to be together.”
The coronavirus forced Rag’s to close a few days a week during the shutdown; it only operated on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Smith applied for a PPP loan but was denied. He says he was asked for a lot of documents that didn’t seem to apply for a loan, but he’s “not worried about it.”
Rag’s has also seen a surge in orders this week thanks to social media efforts and his notoriety in the west Valley. He says customers have told him the neighborhood needs his business.
“I’m not a franchise, you know, I’m just a mom-and-pop shop, and it’s a must out here on the west side that I stay open,” he says.
Smith says the best way to support him is to stop by Rag's and order his food.
Stacy’s Off Da Hook BBQ and Soul Food has been busy since the virus hit, according to owner Stacy Phipps. The Phoenix restaurant has been offering takeout only since March with no plans to open the dining room to customers just yet.
Despite that, Phipps didn’t anticipate how busy he would be on Tuesday.
“We’re normally not busy like we was busy today, that’s for sure,” he said on Tuesday night. “I was really understaffed.”
Phipps had no idea about the local black restaurant guide or that his restaurant was featured on it. He thought the rush of orders was due to the restaurant closing early for the curfew.
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He’s still working on his PPP loan application, a time-consuming process compounded by how short-staffed the restaurant is. Phipps says he will have to do some staffing earlier than planned due to the influx of customers.
Phipps says that the best way for people to support his business during this time is to be patient. His food takes time.
“If it's busy when they walk in, they should either be patient or go somewhere else and come back another day when it’s not as busy,” he says. “But it is what it is, you got to take the good with the bad.”