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Black Restaurants Close In Robust Tourism Industry
12/3/2014 3:26:06 PM




By Barney Blakeney

Though restaurants are opening on every corner in the Charleston area almost on a daily basis, in the city where African American culture and history are the foundation of the local tourism industry, Black owned soul food restaurants unable to survive in a booming economy are closing.

Oct. 16 Gullah Cuisine located in Mount Pleasant, one of the premier Black owned soul food restaurants in the area, closed its doors for the last time. The 20-year old establishment arguably was recognized as the Black community’s flagship soul food restaurant.

A few weeks earlier Ike’s Guillah Foods restaurant, where Charleston’s soul food prima donna Alice Warren was cook, closed its doors on Meeting Street. A year earlier, the area’s best known greasy spoon soul food restaurant, Ernie’s, in downtown Charleston closed after losing its business site. Alluette’s on Reid Street only months ago suffered the same fate. Huger’s at 587 King Street struggled for years and Martha Lou’s on Morrison Drive continues to struggle despite rave national reviews. Only Bertha’s in North Charleston seems on solid footing.

Charlotte Jenkins, owner of Gullah Cuisine said she was forced to close after struggling to stay open the past two years. Located on busy U.S. Highway 17 N. in Mount Pleasant where access is optimum, Jenkins said despite those advantages, her business was unstable. A daily buffet was not cost effective and without it, her clientele withered. Eventually she was unable to pay the mortgage, she said.

Charleston business consultant Anthony Moore director of the Greater Charleston Empowerment Corporation which advocates for Black businesses, said while restaurants are among the most difficult businesses to operate, Black owned restaurants additionally face an array of challenges. Maintaining cash flow that keeps the doors open is the most challenging, he said.

Soul food restaurants have a built in obstacle, Moore said. Unlike restaurants that offer a menu that has more variety, soul food restaurants are more limited in their food choices. And its a food choice many think is often unhealthy. Add internal problems like poor management and planning and many Black owned restaurants ultimately face closure.

Something needs to happen to shore up Black owned restaurants, Moore says. Better marketing in a locale where food and cuisine are rated among the best in the world is one action, he said. Because soul food isn’t something patrons look for daily, better marketing could help fill the dining rooms. He noted Ernie’s Restaurant did have a daily clientele, but that was unusual, he said.

Business consultant Kwadjo Campbell said another challenge for Black restaurants is controlling their real estate, their business sites. In an area where lease and rental costs are astronomical, business sites go to the highest bidder. He thinks local government through its business lending programs may offer some alternatives for real estate control.

Beyond that, Campbell said Black entrepreneurs must begin to look past restaurant ownership. Black business must begin to integrate with the local tourism industry, he said.

Visitor Comments

Submitted By: Chef Kimberly Submitted: 12/11/2014
What industry is booming that Black folks are in? I know of none. Hospitality & tourism is the Bread & Butter in the Low Country. If Black people are not supporting Black owned restaurants then the restaurant owner needs to diversify the clientele, menu and make sure the environment & service are up to or exceed the norm. If the minorities in the area would join in and pool their resources to buy and own something that will help the community, I'd say that would be a win win for all.

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