CHICAGO — A local food enthusiast who has used social media to promote Black-owned restaurants in Chicago and across the country has become a lifeline for local restaurant owners during a tumultuous year.
Jeremy Joyce said last spring took the nation by storm, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and major civil unrest.
“George Floyd was going into 2 and a half months and all I was thinking was I really need to utilize my voice to help these restaurants at scale,” Joyce said.
Joyce had already been running ‘Black People Eats’, a blog-turned-business that showcases Black-owned restaurants in Chicago, as well as other major cities including Atlanta and Houston.
Last June, with a modest social media following, Joyce started a relief fund for Black-owned restaurants on GoFundMe.
With a goal to raise $25,000, Joyce said he wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
“We did $25,000 in day, I was like ‘Ohhh snap this is BIG,” Joyce said.
In just weeks, the campaign raised nearly $100,000 dollars, with the money distributed to more than three dozen restaurants.
Kilwins Chocolates on Michigan Avenue was one of the grant recipients. Closed for three months, the business took a significant financial hit.
“We had one of our windows busted in on top of the fact that we never been late on the rent payment, but because we had to close our doors it was really hard scraping up change to make our rent payment,” owner Janel Jackson said.
Joyce’s help has been more than financial grants, thanks to his social media following tripling in just two months, with nearly 100,000 followers today.
With the increased platform, Joyce has been introducing old and new customers alike to Black-owned restaurants.
“Food is culture and it is a way to connect communities and unite people together,” Joyce said.
Sheldrick Holmes’ South Loop restaurant ‘Grail Cafe’ was open for just two months prior to shutdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. He credits Jeremy’s Instagram and Facebook postings for keeping his doors open.
“I need someone like Jeremy and Black People Eats to put that spotlight on my business and for so many other businesses around the Chicagoland area,” Holmes said.
Joyce has succeeded in doing just that.
For Black History Month, Joyce has visited one Black-owned restaurant a day, posting his favorite and interesting dishes he finds in hopes of reaching all communities.
“Those are the things that bring me joy, when we post a restaurant and it brings sales increases,” Joyce said.
The success of Black People Eats has created an unsuspected career opportunity for Joyce. Last month, he left his job in finance to partner with corporations and help creating restaurant awareness campaigns.
“Now I can be more strategic and utilize my voice to connect with corporations to impact the Black restaurant community,” Joyce said.
As restaurants begin to bounce back, owners are eternally grateful for Joyce’s efforts.
“For someone to have the consideration to want to be able to give back to those businesses and go the extra mile and do all this great work so people can keep their doors open, I think is just phenomenal,” Jackson said.