The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

Flexibility, strength, delivery: How 3 Black-owned restaurants are surviving the pandemic

Blend store owners Chuck Duffey and Jennifer Duffey stand in front of their popular in door display of their brand logo on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. They both wore shirts with the words, "Love Never Fails" imprinted on it to show their spirit for Valentine's Day.
Madelaine Church

By Alan Trinidad and Sarah Blunt
February 14, 2021

The pandemic threw a variety of surprises at Sacramento’s Black restaurateurs.

A husband and wife who opened a juice bar a month before the chaos.

An enduring Caribbean cafe owner left to fend for herself.

A vegan soul chef who didn’t get a chance to physically open her doors.

Businesses in Sacramento faced different circumstances and struggles, from new businesses put to a halt, to established businesses with an uncertain future due to a decline in customer traffic and revenue. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, these restaurateurs all had to face the reality of whether or not they could keep their businesses open in Sacramento, the metro area with the eighth highest rate of business closures from March to September according to Yelp.

2020 proved to be a difficult year for business owners, however there has been an emergence of awareness and support for Black-owned businesses. Yelp shows Black-owned business searches were up 2,400% in 2020. Here’s how these 3 Black-owned businesses have maneuvered through this unpredictable year.

Blend

Blend owner Jennifer Duffey makes two drinks for customers on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. The menu includes items such as coffee, tea, juice and smoothies.

Offering positive energy and healthy options to the community, Chuck and Jenn Duffey opened Blend, a smoothie and juice bar, in February 2020. The Duffeys started their business unaware of the upcoming challenges 2020 had to offer.

“Every month it was something different, from allowing people in, to just now curbside, to delivery,” said Chuck Duffey, the co-owner of Blend. “The biggest lessons I would say that we learned was just to be open, be flexible, adapt.”

Chuck Duffey says a common misconception of living a healthier lifestyle is sacrificing taste, a notion he counters with Blend’s healthy drink alternatives. Specializing in natural sweeteners and ingredients to provide low calorie, nutrient-rich beverages. Apart from the beverages they advertise, Blend was a way for the Duffeys to connect with their customers.

“The thing is we love connecting with people, we're essentially people people, you know, it was a great idea,” Chuck Duffey said in an over-the-phone interview. “We've been living a healthy lifestyle for years, so we want to bring something healthy, but good to the community.”

According to an article from The Sacramento Bee, Sacramento is known for being one of the most multicultural cities in the nation, providing a large demographic of different groups.
Chuck Duffey said that because of Sacramento's inclusive community, Blend feels embraced as a business.

“The thing about Sacramento is that it's like this giant melting pot, you're going to get some of everything,” Duffey said. “There's known diversity in the area, the great thing about Sac is that it's been so much support just from everybody.”

Cafe Connection

The colorful menu and homemade hot sauce are on display inside Cafe Connection on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. Ken Chan and Debbie Rajkumar opened Cafe Connection in Fall 2008, making their dishes from scratch in the restaurant.

In the heart of Sacramento, next to the State Capitol, is a restaurant that serves plates inspired by the flavors of the Caribbean. Cafe Connection is a family-owned cafe that offers homemade Carribean meals, opened by Ken Chan and Debbie Rajkumar in fall 2008. Rajkumar said that any customer can instantly feel welcomed when entering their establishment.

“This may sound like a crazy thing, but a homeless person can come here and feel good and a person can come from the capital and feel good as well,” Rajkumar said. “It's a warm, comfortable place for people to be, and they bring the best out of me.”

According to Rajkumar, prior to the pandemic Cafe Connection was averaging around $800 a day. Now, Rajkumar says the restaurant barely makes $60-70 dollars a day. Rajkumar says that she plans on retiring and closing the business because of the financial impact but reconsiders when she thinks about the familiar faces that come into her shop.

“You know when I see my regular people come in here, and people come from outside and they say, ‘You know, I'm happy to see you,’ it makes me feel good,” Rajkumar said. “It gives me that incentive to continue, and it's a different feeling. There's no monetary value to any of this.”

Rajkumar described losing most staff members to unemployment benefits and experiencing slower customer traffic as the biggest changes during the pandemic. She said she handles all of the restaurant operations by herself.

“I'm here working alone pretty much, we can't have people eating here, and they can’t eat outside,” Rajkumar said. “It's really hard on us. Every time I question myself, but I'm a strong person.”

Good Vibes Vegan Cafe and Herbs

Good Vibes Vegan Cafe and Herbs' storefront remains "Coming Soon" in downtown Sacramento on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. The store was set to open in April 2020 but is still awaiting grand opening due to COVID-19.

Inspired by being unable to find good vegan alternatives, Jaeda Barnes created Good Vibes Vegan Cafe and Herbs to share her cooking with the vegan community. Good Vibes Vegan Cafe serves its food by taking preorders and delivering it to customers on the weekends.

“I was inspired by being a vegan and not being able to eat really tasty food that tasted like the nostalgic foods that I grew up on,” Barnes said. “So we created something for ourselves.”

As the business idea came about, so did COVID-19, ultimately not allowing Barnes to open her original idea for a restaurant in April 2020. Although the pandemic put a strain on opening the business, it didn’t stop Barnes from getting her vegan food out to the community by renting out ghost kitchens, kitchens to cook food strictly for weekend deliveries.

Barnes primarily sells soul food, but with a twist. Although she does traditional soul meals, like her Thanksgiving-themed meal, consisting of her vegan turkey - a combination of wheat protein and seasoned soy - mashed potatoes, gravy, candied yams, mac and cheese, cranberry sauce, and coleslaw. She also does meals such as spaghetti, meatloaf, beef stroganoff, and others.

“We say vegan with a soul food twist, meaning that it’s made with so much love, soul, and good vibes, things like that,” Barnes said. “So it’s comfort food, good rich nostalgic food made with love.”

Barnes said she has learned through her food that her passion is to serve people, and with that, she also goes out monthly to serve the homeless community in Sacramento, cooking anywhere from 100 to 150 restaurant-quality meals.

“At least once each month we will cook or take hygiene items out to the homeless community,” Barnes said. “We fill up our van with hygiene items for our homeless community and me and my husband will get in the van and distribute the items...we cook up the same exact meal for them and will serve it to them hot or we’ll bring them brand new items for themselves. So that’s also something that we take pride in doing.”