COVID-19

This Black-owned restaurant couldn’t get PPP funding at first. Here’s how it’s doing now.

Amy Scott Jun 8, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Terence Dickson stands in front of "Big Blue," a delivery truck he's converted into an outdoor bar at his restaurant in Baltimore. Amy Scott/Marketplace
COVID-19

This Black-owned restaurant couldn’t get PPP funding at first. Here’s how it’s doing now.

Amy Scott Jun 8, 2020
Terence Dickson stands in front of "Big Blue," a delivery truck he's converted into an outdoor bar at his restaurant in Baltimore. Amy Scott/Marketplace
HTML EMBED:
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On a recent Friday afternoon, the city of Baltimore, Maryland, was just minutes away from letting restaurants reopen for outdoor dining. But Terence Dickson, owner of Terra Cafe, was holding off. The cafe has the perfect space for outdoor dining out back, with canvas shades hanging overhead and an old delivery truck serving as the bar. But instead of preparing to welcome back customers, Dickson was balanced on a pile of furniture behind the truck.

“What we’re doing right now is we’re getting ready the proper way for reopening,” he said.

That meant installing special paneling inside the truck/bar that’s easy to disinfect, ordering touchless digital thermometers to screen customers and setting up hand sanitizer stations. Dickson admitted he was tempted to open that evening.

“If I open up right now, I know I’ll probably make $2,000 to $3,000 in this backyard today — drinks, food, getting out, music — but I’m going to hold on for a little bit longer,” he said.

He’s worried about liability, for one thing. He wants to see if there’s a surge in COVID-19 cases before making a decision, even if it’s costing him. Dickson has had a small but steady stream of takeout customers, picking up jerk chicken and fish sandwiches, but it’s not enough to pay the bills.

“It’s a little devil on my shoulder saying, ‘Get the bread, get the bread,'” he said. “The angel’s going to win out over this.”

Dickson had applied for funding from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, only to be told initially that he didn’t qualify because he didn’t have an existing line of credit with his bank. His restaurant was one of many minority-owned businesses left out of the program in the first round.

Eventually Dickson received $38,000, of the $65,000 he requested. Then came the next challenge. In order to get the loan forgiven, he had to spend 75% of it on payroll. There still isn’t enough business to bring back all his workers, so he’s found ways to give some of them extra hours.

Terra Cafe has the perfect spot for outdoor dining on the back patio, when Dickson decides it's safe to reopen.
Terra Cafe has the perfect spot for outdoor dining on the back patio, when Dickson decides it’s safe to reopen. (Amy Scott/Marketplace)

“If they want to come and help me paint, if they want to help me clean up, if they want to help get us ready for us to open up, that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

Congress recently changed the rules to give business owners more flexibility.

Dickson’s been able to hold on, but he’s worried about other Black-owned businesses that didn’t get any government help, in some cases because they didn’t apply.

“They’re so traumatized by the relationship that they’ve had before with the banks,” he said. “‘Why do I spend three days filling something out? Why do I got to call? Why do I put false hopes up?'”

A longtime mentor to fellow Black entrepreneurs, Dickson is now seeking funding to start an incubator for micro businesses, hoping the renewed focus on systemic racism and economic inequality in our country will bring change.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?

Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday  — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

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