by JR Valrey, Black New World Journalist Society
“Ingenuity is the reigning order of the day” would be my choice of words if I had to sum up the COVID-19 pandemic’s quarantine into a sentence for small business owners. When the dust settles, there are going to be some “out of nowhere wins” as well as catastrophic losses.
The ability to imagine a new reality and pivot into that vision quickly is what will separate the triumphant from everyone else in the business community. Some are still trying to figure out what is going on while others have conjured up ways to serve the community while also making a dollar in these dire times.
When tragedy strikes, opportunity usually follows. Oakland Chef Monifa Dayo has used the proverbial lemons that the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt her, transformed her business in a rather short amount of time, and is now serving lemonade, metaphorically speaking.
“I had an eatery that I had to transform into a delivery program. I have a supperclub that has been compromised. It was an underground dope supperclub with a dope table,” said Chef Monifa Dayo excitedly as she suddenly crescendos onto a low note: “Now I just put stuff on the table. I don’t even sit to have dinner there anymore.”
The supper club was basically an underground “members only” type of restaurant for a curated group she shared her recipes and culinary creations with.
Monifa represents a growing trend of Black entrepreneurs in Oakland and the Bay Area who, to stay in business, have had to modify how they once did business to the new pandemic norms of quarantining and social distancing.
Monifa’s free hot dinner plates emphasize healthy vegetables that build the immune system.
“I am essentially a passive food justice activist, meaning that I do my food justice work in the confines of my creative space. I have housed charities at my supperclub that have raised thousands of dollars. I’ve invited the whole community in my space to create, spread love, and have a good time.”
Chef Monifa Dayo and San Francisco based curator Melorra Green have teamed up to birth a Sunday hot dinner delivery program that has been operating since not long after the quarantine began.
“I reached out to Melorra Green because I knew she was one of the co-executive directors of the African American Art and Culture Complex. I knew she would extend the point of action that I was making. I knew the organization would resonate with the idea. She and I talked about the basic framework and did it in days,” said Monifa.
“But the obvious reasons why we were compelled is because we wanted to make sure the most vulnerable in our community were being taken care of – the elders, the single moms, etc.
Unemployment is at a staggering rate, with people being laid off regularly, locally and nationally. Seniors are extremely susceptible to catching COVID-19 because of their aged immune system and/or because their immune system has been compromised by a pre-existing condition.
Monifa’s free hot dinner plates emphasize healthy vegetables that build the immune system. On every Sunday, Monifa Dayo cooks 15 meals for the community, then has them personally delivered to their homes.
“I think with COVID-19 we don’t have the luxury of looking at COVID-19 through a pre- COVID-19 lens. If you look at the business structure of chefs, of business professionals, of journalists, we have all had to shift how we deal,” explained Monifa.
“Grow the population, serve more individuals, and branch out would be the business model. But because we’re in the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantined, you can’t do that because that requires us to be near and close to each other. You can’t be close to people cooking or packaging.”
Black business owners and Black people will always find a way to survive, with the Black community’s support playing a vital role in this historic and critical time. We have to support those on the frontlines of business and community service in our community.
“I need to provide all types of things besides just serving hot food … herbs, salves, etc. I would need money and free labor or a reduced rate,” lamented Monifa.
“Also, people can help by buying things from my chef business SUR PLace. That’s my food service company, which serves Sene-Gambian and California cuisine. That’s an extension of my supperclub.”
How people do business is changing. How we enjoy food socially is changing. How much we support the small businesses in our community needs to change, needs to increase, because this can become a prosperous time or a disastrous time for Black business. Our pandemic behavior will be the determining factor.
You can contact Monifa on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @monifadayo and also at firstname.lastname@example.org.