Oat milk lattes, vegan donuts, craft beer. Sounds delicious, right? However, there are often insidious implications to these trendy, high-end goods. For many neighborhoods, the appearance of foods like these signifies a neighborhood undergoing gentrification.
Gentrification is the process of transforming traditionally low-income communities into fashionable, more expensive neighborhoods through the influx of more affluent residents. The primary issue with gentrification is the displacement of existing families who can no longer afford to stay in their homes and local businesses that are replaced by new establishments not designed to support the community. The phenomenon predominantly affects people of color, so another major concern that arises is the whitewashing of Black and Latinx cultures.
One of the first signs of gentrification is the appearance of new restaurants and cafes. At first, this can seem exciting––who doesn’t love more options when it comes to food? However, when it becomes apparent that the prices do not match the economic environment, the original enthusiasm is replaced by hardship and anxiety.
For new business owners, it is common and even understandable to flock towards areas with affordable rent. If your restaurant is contributing to gentrification, there are ways to offset the negative effects that you might incur. Some proactive steps you can take to alleviate the impact of your restaurant include:
- Hire from within the neighborhood. If you are profiting off the community, why not help its existing members profit as well?
- Meet with community leaders to ask how you can work together. For restaurants establishing themselves in a neighborhood, they are not a part of, it’s important to understand the way a community operates and work with those who already strive to make it the best possible environment for all shareholders.
- Avoid whitewashing. For example, if you are opening a restaurant in a predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood, try adding a bilingual translation to menu items.
- Make your business accessible to local residents. Maybe charging $7 for a matcha latte is the only way to make a profit––if so, perhaps provide a special deal for people who live in the neighborhood so that they can enjoy the benefits of a new cafe as well.
In the broader market, gentrification is hard to avoid. However, individual establishments have the power to minimize the effects of this unwelcome transformation by being attuned to the needs of the community. Engaging with the community in which your restaurant is located is both important and necessary.