By Debbie Elliott
Entrepreneur Keitra Bates stands in a gleaming glass-front retail shop in a new development on the south side of Atlanta.
“We’re looking at almost 2,000-sq-ft. of raw space,” she says, pointing out the floor-to-ceiling windows that face onto Atlanta’s popular Beltline, railways converted to trails and parks encircling the city.
Photo Lynsey Weatherspoon for NPR
This will soon be the second location for a business she started called Marddy’s — short for Market Buddies, a shared kitchen where home cooks can prepare their goods, and collectively market them.
Her dream began at a far less glamorous spot in a long-neglected neighborhood west of downtown.
“When I was first standing outside with no keys on Fair Street and a boarded-up door, I would not have guessed this,” Bates says.
“This place is proof that you can save yourself,” she says.
Like many Black-owned businesses, the pandemic had the Atlanta food entrepreneur wondering if her fledgling shared commercial kitchen would survive. Looking back a year later, she says it meant getting creative and doubling-down on her mission of connecting with other Black entrepreneurs in order to thrive, and grow her business.
Creating affordable environment for Black businesses
She acknowledges it’s a big step opening this second location at the new Pittsburgh Yards development.
“There’s no hiding,” she says. “Everything that we say that we are, people can kind of peek in and see, like, are they really making those pies? Yeah, we’re really making the pies.”
Black-owned small businesses have long faced difficult odds whether it’s access to financial capital, or discrimination in contracting. Now, the pandemic has hit them the hardest, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which found that Black businesses closed at more than twice the rate of white-owned businesses in early 2020.
Pittsburgh Yards is specifically designed to address the obstacles facing Black entrepreneurs. The public-private project converted an old transportation hub into shared working space.
The idea is to create an affordable environment for African American businesses to nurture one another, says Erika Smith with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, (which also sponsors NPR). Smith says Atlanta’s Beltline is an economic generator, but has also fueled gentrification.
“We are realizing in communities where the Beltline is developed, it’s increased the cost of rents for residents and commercial businesses,” Smith says. “So part of the strategy is how can we leverage a physical space like Pittsburgh Yards to also satisfy that business displacement issue.”
“They have a right to survive”
That’s Keitra Bates story. She ran a pizzeria in west Atlanta until revitalization attracted a new landlord who raised her rent. She couldn’t afford to stay open. And she saw other Black-owned businesses priced out as well, closing what had been venues where local home cooks could sell their breads, sauces and pies. She calls them hidden entrepreneurs in danger of being ghosted, along with the traditional flavors of the neighborhood.
Bates is one of the Americans NPR has been following as part of our Kitchen Table Conversations, which started four years ago.
“These people have created a business with their talent and they have a right to survive,” Bates told NPR in 2019 after she got Marddy’s up and running. “Just because there’s new money coming in doesn’t mean that their business should get snuffed out.”
Bates, who is 47, has worked to grow a catering business, aggregating the products her vendors make. About a dozen now use Marddy’s shared kitchen, making products including spices, flavored nuts, and vegan cheese sauce.
Read the full article at NPR.