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Anela Malik has adopted a new role as a round-the-clock matchmaker. The food writer and activist behind the blog Feed The Malik founded the DMV Black Restaurant Resource Bank this month to help Black-owned restaurants and food businesses survive and thrive.
“A few weeks ago, when all of this attention started swirling around supporting Black-owned businesses, I got a few emails from companies and individuals who have skills they want to offer,” Malik says. She began making connections between business owners and those willing to volunteer their time and expertise. When she put a call out on social media asking for additional helpers, she got “a ton of offers” and organized the grassroots effort into a resource bank.
Malik has discovered that most business owners are looking for professional photography to make their restaurant or brand stand out and guidance leveraging social media to grow their reach and visibility in the community.
“Those are the two things people are excited about,” Malik says. “In an era where dine-in is still limited, so much social activity has moved online because of COVID. People are recognizing that having a digital presence is more important than it’s ever been.”
To spread the word about the resource bank, Malik has been personally emailing, calling, and sending messages to restaurants. “So far I’ve emailed about 25 to 30 businesses myself,” she says. “For small mom-and-pop shops it can be hard to find an email. And you might not get an answer when you call on the phone.”
She hopes as awareness of the resource bank builds, businesses will come to her. To get started restaurants should send Malik an email at firstname.lastname@example.org outlining their needs. From there, Malik turns to the spreadsheet she created filled with the names of professionals who have offered to help for free.
Malik also provides business owners with a packet of information containing helpful tips and tricks such as best practices for posting on Instagram or how to find the light when shooting food photos. She’s also pointed restaurants toward Intentionalist, a company that offers businesses a platform to sell gift cards online sans fees. Some diners are hesitant to dine out but still want to support local restaurants, and purchasing gift cards is one way to do so.
The DMV Black Restaurant Resource Bank is a labor of love for Malik. She’s not monetizing the service she’s providing, but notes that some people have sent her money. “Three weeks ago people Venmo-ed me $3,000,” she says. “Every Friday on my Instagram I tell people how I spent the money.” She’s been paying a Howard University graduate who helps her maintain Feed The Malik’s Black-owned restaurant directory and grow the resource bank. “I volunteer my time, but I don’t want young Black people who want to help to work for free. It perpetuates this cycle,” she says.
Malik published a blog post in April about the importance of supporting Black-owned businesses, especially during COVID-19. “As a result of America’s particular racial history, Black people have less access to wealth (and credit) while simultaneously facing gaps in both opportunity and achievement indelibly connected to race,” she wrote. “Black business owners are treated significantly worse when applying for credit and face more barriers during the application process. This pattern remains true even when Black applicants have the same qualifications as White applicants. With less access to credit and less capital to leverage, Black-owned businesses are particularly vulnerable to economic disruption.”
She says she’d like to see “grand-scale societal change” to address these economic injustices. “But on top of that, I do believe in the power of smaller scale community initiatives,” Malik explains. “We might not be able to change everything we don’t like about our society today, but if I know these businesses face inequality in lending and access to capital and resources that can make the difference. I have a platform where I can find those resources. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t connect them.”