OAKLAND (KPIX) -- The pandemic hit businesses hard, especially those in the African American community so, on Saturday, PepsiCo presented "Dig In Day" in Oakland, an effort to help drive business to Black-owned restaurants.
"Lake Merritt made it a place for us to be able to come and be our own bosses," said Amber Johnson, a vendor at the Black International Marketplace. Oakland created the popup bazaar at the northeast tip of Lake Merritt as a way to help African Americans realize their dreams of owning their own businesses.
"This is our first step," Johnson said. "We all would love to have a storefront. We all would love to be able to leave something for our kids, because of lot of us are breaking the cycle out here A lot of us, our parents never went to college or never finished high school."
So this was a great place for Pepsi to kick off "Dig In Day," a nationwide effort to support Black-owned restaurants with the goal of generating $100 million of new business over the next five years.
"A lot of consumers want to give back to Black communities but they don't know how to do it. Pepsi Dig In Day is a great way to start," said Ron Walker, PepsiCo's national account sales manager.
Trap Kitchen has a physical location in downtown Oakland but, on Saturday, they fed people at Lake Merritt for free from a food truck provided by Pepsi. On the menu was Cajun-style barbecue chicken and mac and cheese or vegan-style mac and cheese. Pepsi paid Trap Kitchen for each meal handed out and diners were being encouraged to use an online "Dig In Passport" to record their receipts from other Black-owned restaurants as a way to keep track of the new business generated.
"I think the most important thing that helps is just the word of mouth, letting people know that we exist," said Trap Kitchen owner, Oscar Edwards. "The money helps but money only goes so far. Word of mouth travels forever."
A lot of that word of mouth came from 10-year old Ezekial Brooks, who was handing out food with a side order of salesmanship.
"How's the food?" he asked, getting a thumbs up. "Yeah! I'm generous. I love to give away stuff!"
Saturday the food was free but the hope is that, by consciously steering customers to Black-owned restaurants and businesses, they can create a kind of virtual International Marketplace, like the one they built at Lake Merritt.
"All the people that look like me are out here," said vendor Amber Johnson, "and it just motivates me to keep going -- like there's a place for us."
The "Dig In Passport" identifies Black-owned restaurants in various cities and uploads receipts to track purchases and earn rewards, like gift cards and cooking classes. It can be accessed at http://DigInPassport.com
for more features.