What’s It Going To Take For America To Support Black-Owned Restaurants?
In 2007, Monique Dorsey and her husband, Dwight, started Double Dee’s Catering Service. Dwight, who grew up in Bedford Hills, New York (the couple now lives in neighboring Mount Kisco), has been cooking since high school, learning recipes from his aunts. In the winter of 2019, the couple rolled out a 26-foot food truck trailer, Wrappers Delight, serving what Dorsey calls a “contemporary menu featuring hip-hop themed wraps,” with items named “Teach Me How To Jerk” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” The trailer also doubles as a mobile kitchen for Double Dee’s.
In this Voices in Food story, Dorsey talks about witnessing her catering company be confined to a certain category of cooking because of her race, the unwillingness of some customers to pay a fair price for certain foods, and in the past year, a growing awareness from the public of the importance of supporting Black-owned companies.
Who were your customers and what kind of food did you cook for them when you got started?
Our sole purpose in starting the company was creating great-tasting food. We never targeted a certain demographic ― good food is not dictated by an ethnicity. Our customers were initially other Black people, as we built our business from church events where we served food, and then it grew by word of mouth. We started out as servers for some white customers and slowly moved into catering and event planning for them. There was a tendency for them to ask us to cook soul food, or to arrange for an outdoor barbecue. We’ve strived not to pigeonhole ourselves, and not to have customers pigeonhole us.
How did that translate into pricing?
I noticed there was a tendency to question our prices ― that a person of color who is asking for a reasonable and customary price was asking too much. In the past, and to some degree today, white people had certain foods cooked for them from household help. Those recipes were passed down from our ancestors, and we’ve reimagined them to still have their great taste but to be healthier. I’ve had to educate customers that we’re not serving sloppy Joes out of a can. Once they tasted our food, they were willing to pay for our quality.
Soon after your food truck got on the road, COVID-19 hit and the nation faced a reckoning after witnessing the death of George Floyd. What did that mean for the new business?
We started serving from the food truck in the winter months, which are traditionally hard for food trucks. Then the grueling footage of Floyd’s murder made the pain of the Black community click with people outside the community. Even though people couldn’t empathize, they could sympathize. But it’s been a dual-edged sword and there is pride involved on our end ― I wonder why it had to come from such an event to make people aware that we existed. We have to take that attention and not let it be in vain.
You may come to my counter or use my catering services because you’ve heard of me as a woman and Black-owned company, but I only have one shot to make sure you keep coming back.
At a recent Black Lives Matter event in Northern Westchester, New York, you spoke of your experiences. Why was it important to be a speaker?
I felt as a woman of color who owns two very successful businesses, as a mother to a Black son and daughter, and as an aunt to my Black nieces and nephews, it’s my job to change the conversation and the dynamic we often face. It is our truth that we must work 10 times harder to prove ourselves once some people find out our ethnicity. I believe change starts with platforms such as those community gatherings. It can start with changing the mindsets of those who see color before they see humanity.
How are you feeling about the future of continued support and awareness for businesses such as yours?
I hope there is continued awareness and support for Black-owned businesses, that people continue to stand up for what is right, and that we continue to strive to change the mindset of so many in this confused and puzzled world.
However, I have a feeling that unless there are some other changes in this country, things are going to go back to the way they were. There are too many who have not explored the deep importance of supporting Black-owned businesses. While some have had their “come to Jesus” moment, it’s probably not the overwhelming majority.
We, as owners, can’t allow George Floyd’s death to be in vain. Those who thrive and survive will be those who worked on their brand prior to COVID-19 and Floyd’s death. I read that from February through April 2020, 41% of Black-owned businesses failed, compared with 17% of their white counterparts. I would like to ask America: What is your deciding factor in supporting us?