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15 Minutes With Black Food Fridays Founder KJ Kearney

15 Minutes With Black Food Fridays Founder KJ Kearney
December 2020

Learn more about his efforts to amplify Black voices in the F&B industry and beyond

CM: What does it mean to be a “community engagement expert?”
There’s a difference between a community activist and a community organizer. An organizer is a person who’s comfortable behind the scenes with late-night drinks and early morning coffee. They build relationships and talk about ideas to implement changes, while an activist takes that language to the street. Both are needed, but I’m much more of an organizer than an activist.

CM: How did Black Food Fridays start?
Charleston is a very diverse city, but it’s not very integrated—there are lots of different types of people, but they tend to stick to their own pockets. Back in April, I put together an online map of 80 Black-owned restaurants and food trucks because I wanted to share with everyone places that were operating under the correct COVID-19 standards.

CM: What unique challenges face restaurant owners of color?
First and most importantly is access to resources. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most Black-owned businesses, including restaurants, begin with as little as $5,000 in start-up capital. Depending on what part of town you’re in, that’s only a few months of rent. Also, a lot of Black restaurateurs don’t have a relationship with their financial institution or community organizations like the Charleston Visitors Bureau. Banks and marketing companies would be wise to spend time crafting messages specifically geared to Black-owned restaurants. 

CM: How can the community best support Black-owned restaurants and bars?
 It’s one thing to say, “I wish I could help.” It’s another to go spend money at a restaurant you’ve never been to. The peninsula’s Black population is down to 20 percent, but imagine if, one day a week, everyone living in Charleston decided to spend money at Hannibal’s, Dave’s Carry-out, Local 616, Nana’s Seafood, or another Black-owned restaurant. The financial ramifications would be life-changing, allowing those owners to improve their businesses, hire staff, create succession plans, and open new locations. 

CM: Explain your newsletter title, Who Made the Potato Salad?.
Potato salad is an important dish in the Black community, and we always want to know who made it. The answer to that question tells me everything I need to know: Maybe the cook has cats that climb on counters and lick stuff. There’s also a running joke that white people tend to add unnecessary ingredients, like apples or raisins. The Black Food Fridays newsletter tells readers everything they need to know, such as giveaways and interesting happenings. 

CM: How do you measure the success of Black Food Fridays?
Likes are great. Follower numbers are awesome. But the real success comes when someone says, “I’ve been living down the street from a Black-owned restaurant for 16 years and had no clue it existed.” Or the restaurant owners who hit me up and say, “My Fridays got crazy after you launched Black Food Fridays.” Those are the personal levels of success.

CM: What’s next?
I believe that there’s a budding media empire in Black Food Fridays. The media space is missing those Black voices, specifically in TV and film. I’m starting a podcast in 2021. I could also host my own shows or create those opportunities for others.




Gallery photographs courtesy of (soul rolls) Gillie’s seafood, (website), (hot sauce) Lillie’s of Charleston, (bags) J. Stark, & (album cover) Wikipedia