Marcel Banks, left, owner of Bayview restaurant Frisco Fried, receives a social distancing sign from Kristin Houk inside her restaurant Tato. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Small businesses in Bayview work together to survive and serve

Bayview businesses have leveraged local initiatives to survive and serve the community.

Bayview restaurants and nonprofits, facing the hardships COVID-19 dealt to all small businesses, have banded together to survive and serve vulnerable residents with help from the SF New Deal and the Phoenix Grant program.

Kristin Houk, who owns three Bayview restaurants: All Good Pizza, Tato and Cafe Alma, initially had to close all three of her businesses when shelter-in-place orders hit, but quickly pivoted to providing free meals for vulnerable community members.

SF New Deal, a grassroots initiative started in Bayview by the owners of Three Babes Bakeshop, has subsidized restaurants for providing quality meals to neighbors in need.

“Because Bayview has historically been underserved, the need for access to health care and quality food has always been felt deeply here,” said Houk.

Food justice has been a passion of Houk’s for a long time. She spent 10 years working for Namaste Direct, an organization that provides impoverished food producing and artisan women in Southern Mexico and Guatemala with funding, business training and mentorship.

“One of the most revealing things we learned was that when people had access to nutrition, it impacted all aspects of life for the better,” Houk said.

Although it’s unfortunate that it took a pandemic to start getting certain Bayview residents the services they need, initiatives like SF New Deal among others are giving recently homed people, veterans, single-room occupancy hotel and housing project residents what in some cases could be their only meal of the day, she added.

Other Bayview restaurants owned by community resident’s like Houk who are participating in SF New Deal include: Frisco Fried, Auntie April’s and Radio Africa.

The Phoenix Grant program, championed by Bayview Supervisor Shamann Walton and the nonprofit Economic Development on Third (EDOT), will provide one million dollars to small businesses suffering during this public health crisis.

Executive Director of EDOT Earl Shaddix knew that local businesses would need as much financial relief as possible once shelter-in-place orders were imposed. “Six weeks ago, we had our merchants fill out applications for every local and federal grant available,” he said. “We filled out paperwork to engage in the Paycheck Protection Program, but there was nothing coming through.”

In response, Shaddix packaged EDOT funding that had been set aside for a staff position and street fairs to help fund the initiative.

“We gutted programs and repurposed that money into the Phoenix Grant to provide direct relief for for-profit businesses,” Shaddix said.

“It’s not that much, but when you’re getting zero, it’s everything,” he added.

Restaurants will use this money to retain employees, pay rent and cover expenses if they are lucky enough to still be in operation. Unfortunately not all the restaurants are able to participate in programs like SF New Deal, since they may not be set up to produce hundreds of meals on demand.

“Third Street corridor has struggled for years with outmigration, with population shifts, so businesses have been struggling for a long time, so we wanted to do everything we could in our power to make sure resources were carved out and made available specifically for businesses in Bayview,” Supervisor Shamann Walton said.

Although Walton declined to speculate about what the long-term impact would be, he admitted that the suffering will be significant.

“I think that it’s inevitable that some businesses are going to struggle to a point where they may not be able to recover, but we’re going to focus and fight to do everything we can so that it does not happen,” he said.

Bayview residents have been suffering alongside small businesses during this crisis, and have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 compared to other parts of The City.

People of color, about 75% of District 10 residents, are more likely to have to go to jobs where they risk exposure with the public, and to have to live in congregate settings where it is harder to shelter-in-place safely, said Walton.

He believes The City’s Department of Public Health (SFDPH) has not done enough to provide asymptomatic testing for residents in these at-risk communities.

“We have a large number of our unhoused population and folks still living in congregate settings in District 10, and I think all of that plays a role in the high numbers we see in our zipcodes,” Walton said.

“We need to get our unsheltered population out of congregate settings, out of shelters, out of navigation centers, out of encampments and into hotels, so they can shelter-in-place and quarantine safely,” he added. “ We need to test everybody who is even close to any type of vulnerable population. That’s folks who are living in communities where there’s a high concentration of COVID-19 cases, folks who are unsheltered, folks who are in communities of color, because we’ve seen this disproportionately affect communities of color.”

Six million dollars of aid will also make it into the hands of families who are ineligible for federal or state support, such as undocumented immigrants, as soon as next week due to legislation Walton’s office worked on with Mayor London Breed’s office.

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