On Tuesday, September 12, 2023, The PepsiCo Foundation, National Urban League, and Greater Baltimore Urban League launched the Black Restaurant Accelerator Program at the Baltimore World Trade Center (WTC). The view from Skyline WTC’s 21st Floor space was an elegant backdrop to the array of talent displayed by all of the grantees. The culinary tasting included samples from all 24 participants in this year’s cohort; everything from desserts to vegan offerings filled the space with things that enchanted all of the senses. 

The Restaurant Accelerator Program began in 2021 and showed great success. This is its first year in Baltimore. Twenty-four Black restaurant owners participated and 96 restaurant jobs were created as a result. 

National Urban League President, Marc Morial, said, “The Black Restaurant Accelerator Program has been a game changer in Baltimore and the other 11 cities. We have come in and provided support to these businesses after being knocked down so badly by COVID-19.” 

The National Urban League held their annual national conference in Baltimore in 2016 and knows what a special city Baltimore is. Greater Baltimore Urban League President Tiffany Majors was extremely proud and spoke of how encouraged they all are to see what is next for these business owners. There were brief remarks given, but the night was about celebrating, networking, and most importantly —eating as much as you possibly could.

The businesses that were highlighted at the event were at varying stages of growth. For example, Taste This already had two brick and mortar locations prior to participating in the program. However, many of the other chefs did not. Dwayne Benbow Jr. of Funnel Cake King operates his business from a mobile food cart. Oftentimes, it is difficult for small businesses to gain access to  programs like these. That was one of the primary reasons that The Pepsico Foundation, National Urban League, and Greater Baltimore Urban League partnered to launch this initiative.

Dwayne Benbow Jr, Owner, Funnel Cake King
Courtesy Photo: Greater Baltimore Urban League

Charlene Denizard, Head of North America Programs, PepsiCo Foundation, said that “Pepsico has had a long history working in communities all across the country and we want to support them like they do us, but it takes strong partners like National Urban League to get it done. We can provide the ideas and we can provide funding, but [we] can’t do any of the rest of this work and we know that.”

Jay Salters, the coach of The Black Restaurant Accelerator Program, stated that he felt blessed to have had the opportunity to be their coach and that he “knows that these business owners know about the sacrifice that it takes to be successful and the importance of giving back to the community as well.” Skyline WTC, which is more commonly known as “The Top of the World,” is managed by Dwayne Sherrod. He was appreciative of the intentional decision to hold the launch event, in a Black-owned business as well. 

In February of 2023, Governor Wes Moore, signed an executive order to strengthen participation and accountability in minority businesses that contract with the state of Maryland. By law, all state agencies are tasked to get their MBE participation up to or beyond the 29% inclusion. Kevin Anderson, Maryland Secretary of Commerce, who also attended the event, is among those tasked with this mission.

Each of the businesses that participated in the program also qualify as MBE’s and are afforded additional opportunities to expand and become partners with the state. Greater Baltimore Urban League is also a partner with the state of Maryland in doing outreach to businesses in the community and making them aware of available resources. Greater Baltimore Urban League and Greater Washington Urban League sponsor outreach events targeting business owners to attract more participation with the Maryland Minority Business Counts Initiative.  

For more information on The Black Restaurant Accelerator Program, and to apply, please visit www.nul.org. If your business is Black-owned and you need support with growing your business or navigating government contracts, Greater Baltimore Urban League can assist. For more information about becoming MBE certified in the state of Maryland, and learning about upcoming events of the Maryland Minority Business Counts initiative, please visit gomdsmallbiz.maryland.gov. 

Catalina Byrd
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