May 12, 2020
By: Tiffany Razzano
In March, as Floridians first felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – many people staying at home, businesses shutting their doors – former state Rep. Ed Narain began worrying about the stability of Tampa’s minority-owned restaurants.
“It was my gut feeling about this,” he said. “I felt something needed to be done to help them get through this.”
At the time, he wasn’t certain how widespread or long-term these effects would be on the local economy. He just wanted to make sure local restaurants and small businesses would be able to weather the crisis.
This is how Narain and his friends dreamed up Saturday to Go, a grassroots social media campaign designed to boost small, minority-owned restaurants throughout Tampa. The initiative encourages people to frequent these restaurants on Saturdays and post a picture of their order with the hashtag #SaturdaytoGo.
“On Saturdays, all of us purchase something at a restaurant and post a picture of what we’re eating,” he said. “Then we say, ‘Let me see a picture of your plate. What are you eating? You know how social media works. It’s almost like a challenge.”
Saturday to Go launched April 4 and today has about 10 businesses involved, including Blind Tiger Café in Seminole Heights, Grain and Berry in South Tampa, Konan’s BBQ in Carver City, Livy O’s Catering Co. in Brandon, Open Café in East Tampa and Vegg’d Out Vegan Kitchen in North Tampa.
Recently, the city of Tampa became involved with the campaign. Narain said he is working closely with Janelle McGregor, the city’s community partnership manager, who is helping him identify minority-owned businesses to join the initiative.
“I know what our smaller businesses in this community, our black-owned businesses are going through,” he said. “Most don’t have 14 days of cash on hand to survive.”
Many minority business owners were turned down for Paycheck Protection Program loans and other assistance, he added, making it “hard for them to get that additional capital to stay afloat.”
Florence Gainer, owner of Open Café, said business has been down 60 percent since March. She has adapted business to curbside pick-up and local deliveries, but she’s still had to cut her staff from 12 workers to six.
She’s grateful for the Saturday to Go campaign and said she sees “a nice little jump on Saturdays.”
Gainer added, “We’re just grateful to be part of the initiative. It keeps some customers coming in on Saturdays, in particular.”
Tim Adam, co-owner of the South Tampa Grain and Berry franchise that opened last May, also said business is down about 60 percent. He’s more concerned about independently owned minority-owned businesses, though.
“They don’t have the cash on hand, all of them, to last a month, two months. There are businesses in our area that are really, really hurting,” he said. “(This program) is extremely beneficial to especially the individually owned minority businesses. This marketing is getting customers in the door.”
Roberto Torres, owner of Blind Tiger Cafe, which has seven locations in the area, agreed that Saturday to Go is a boon to small businesses.
“I know a lot of people are hurting and a lot can’t afford marketing,” he said.
On the first Saturday of Blind Tiger’s involvement, he saw a 50 percent increase over the prior weekend, he said. Even still, business is “down 80 percent across the board” at all seven of the company’s locations.
Though the state has begun allowing businesses to slowly reopen, Torres has “a gloomy outlook” on the economy. He expects it will take five years to recover from the hit it’s taken during the pandemic and that many small businesses might not return.
Still, he is hopeful.
“Businesses are resilient,” he said.
And programs like Saturday to Go show that people can “band together to say hey, we’re going to exact some change and make a difference for these restaurants,” he said.
To learn more about Saturday to Go, visit facebook.com/saturdaytogo.