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Food collective helps Black chefs survive the pandemic

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    Oakland, CA (KPIX) — An Oakland chef who gained fame as the winner of a popular TV cooking competition is sharing his good fortune and business skills with other black food entrepreneurs during the pandemic.

Shabriya Hill used to cook soul food like gumbo out of her home. But now, the chef and owner of Briya Be Cookin’ can fill larger orders in a certified commercial kitchen.
 
“It’s keeping me going. It’s keeping me afloat,” said Hill.
 
She’s one of 30 members of the Black Food Collective, founded two years ago by Chef Rashad Armstead, known for Crave BBQ, and Grammies Down Home Chicken and Seafood.
 
Armstead invites members of the collective to use his Epic Ventures Test Kitchen in Oakland’s Fruitvale district.

The collective is helping black-owned businesses survive especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When COVID hit, I had a light bulb click off in my head to where I said after this is over, with black businesses, especially food businesses, are going to suffer more than any other business in any other industry because we were already suffering already,” Armstead explained. 

He said many are suffering because they lack capital and business training so he’s helping chefs succeed in the industry that he says kept him out of jail and off drugs.
 
Now, he’s riding on his fame as winner of the Food Network cooking show ‘Chopped,’ last year.
 
“I won Chopped, so I have some sort of recognition that I can use to bring light to this issue,” said Armstead.
 
He not only lets black chefs use his kitchen space for cooking and pop-up takeout, he also crowdfunds for financing.
 
“We got to invest in these businesses because there are a lot of them closing left and right,” he said.
 
In return, business owners like Yaphet Santana give the Black Food Collective 10 percent of their profits.
 
Santana says the collective was a godsend. When COVID-19 broke out, he lost his job as a substance abuse counselor at San Quentin prison, so he turned to his culinary skills.

“This place has helped my business grow,” said Santana.
 
It’s not an easy road.
 
For example, Armstead says many chefs can’t afford the $500 catering permit fee required by the health department.
 
So he is fundraising and teaching chefs about finance.
 
“Chef Rashad – he’s tried and true. He’s done this before, so if I could get information from him, get wisdom from him that could save me from learning the hard way, I’m gonna take it,” said Santana.
 
And Armstead has a lot to share.
 
The prize from winning Chopped helped pay some bills but he still ended up closing two restaurants.
 
“So I believe that I didn’t go through that for no reason,” Armstead said. “So I believe that it was preparing me to give back to people so that they don’t have to go through what I went through. That’s my hope.”
 
And he’s proving there can’t be too many cooks in his kitchen collective as members collaborate on recipes for success.

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