Exploring Identity & Inspiring Change in Hospitality: A Conversation with Black Hospitality Leaders

a photo of Bianca Esmond

Bianca Esmond

5 min read

Mar 26, 2021

Exploring Identity & Inspiring Change in Hospitality: A Conversation with Black Hospitality Leaders

Race is a topic that many of us struggle to talk about at work. It’s an uncomfortable topic, and when we do talk about race, it’s usually with people who look like us. The Black Lives Matter movement during the summer of 2020 pushed racial-bias conversations to the forefront, resulting in the formation of an internal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force at SevenRooms. Studies have repeatedly shown that the hospitality industry lags when it comes to opportunities for minorities, so as a Task Force, we asked ourselves what we could be doing to have more meaningful dialogue regarding the state of DEI within our industry and create change.

We organized a conversation with three Black entrepreneurs to share their stories with the SevenRooms team on how they’ve navigated the hospitality industry and addressed efforts to bring about lasting change in their communities. We spoke with Khalid Pitts from Cork Wine Bar, Booker Parchment from Mr. Braxton, and Krystle Rodriguez from Hodgepodge Coffee. Our moderator and fellow task force member, Cedric Lewis, began by asking the panelists to comment on the ways their identity has both inspired and presented roadblocks to their career in hospitality. Among the many powerful moments and insightful discussions that came out of the panel, these resonated with attendees and SevenRooms staff alike:

Khalid Pitts, owner of Cork Wine Bar & Market

“You have to be authentic to be in this industry and lead where your ideals are. Unless you’re growing you’re shrinking, you always need to think about how to diversify. Despite political instability, economic recession, natural disasters, terror threats, war or pandemic, the hospitality industry is no stranger to adversity and resilience. If you invest in your workers, you’re going to see that investment come back to you.”

Krystle Rodriguez, owner of Hodgepodge Coffeehouse

“As a Black woman, I never realized that the spaces we created were inherently different than those created by white men. Other marginalized people recognized that the space I created was their comfort. The idea of community is so important in so many other cultures but this seemed to dissipate in my home state of Georgia. We opened when I was 27 years old, and my mentality was that if this thing fails, I can still say I owned a business before I was 30, and I have 60 years to figure out the rest of my life. With the space I gathered, I was able to see what I could give to the community. I realized that supporting our community meant supporting our team and staff. Our first community campaign was a ‘living wage’ for our staff, which meant raising prices, something we were acutely aware of in a quickly gentrifying city that still had the federal minimum wage. We were transparent about this and people were so thankful for a small business that cared about their staff. The first month of COVID our sales dropped 70%. At the same time we decided to prepare 100 school lunches a week and create care packages for the elderly. We kept our doors open during this hard time and continued to support our community.

Booker Parchment, owner of Mr. Braxton

“Change is a part of life. My comfort was unapologetically Black, and that is how I created my restaurant to feel. My dream was to create a space that was more like a social house, a place that would welcome people of all races, backgrounds and ideas. Access to capital is inherently connected to race and gender.”

Our panel was a great way to start the conversation and allow a safe space for voices to be heard and perspectives to be shaped. However, we can’t stop here. It’s imperative that we continue to support and collaborate with Black-owned businesses and community leaders year-round. A true commitment to diversity is demonstrated by ensuring the equitable inclusion of all, and as a company, SevenRooms continues to challenge our collective effort as a global leader in the hospitality industry to create a more diverse and equitable future.

For more information on meaningful ways to support Black-owned restaurants, please see the links below:

EatOkra is an app that provides a database of Black-owned restaurants
Food and Drink from Black-Owned Brooklyn, a digital publication spotlighting Black-owned, Brooklyn-based businesses and the people behind them

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