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Monday, October 6, 2008

Bridging the Black/Brown divide through food

New Black-owned grocery store offers a fresh market

by Jakina Hill

After watching a television news special on the availability– or lack thereof–of fresh foods, especially fruits and vegetables, in some of the city’s minority communities, a Black entrepreneur was moved to take action.

Karriem Beyah knew it was time for him to fulfill his lifelong dream of owning his own grocery store.

Beyah, a native Chicagoan, bought the space that is now Farmers Best Market, 1424 W. 47th St., in June. The store is purposely located between a Black neighborhood and a Hispanic one, with Chinatown and Bridgeport nearby, Beyah told the Defender. He chose this location because of the multicultural area.

“I would see these businesses flourishing in other communities and wonder why it wasn’t in African American communities. I said when I got the opportunity I will do it myself, and it stopped being a question,” Beyah said.

The store has been open since July 1 but will have its grand opening October 1.

Beyah credits working in his godfather’s grocery store as a child for his passion for the grocery business. He went on to spend 19 years in corporate America, working for Dean Foods, before starting his own distribution company.

Beyah said statistics show that African Americans don’t shop where Hispanics shop, so his goal was to break the barrier and create a place where everyone could come together and feel comfortable.

Though he is trying to lessen the scarcity of fresh food markets in minority neighborhoods, Beyah said he is aware that African Americans don’t buy as much fresh food as they do frozen food. He said he keeps that in mind when working to make sure Farmers Best Market caters to everyone.

Chatham Foods was the city’s only Black-owned grocery store. But that ended when the store was sold earlier this year to a buyer who was not Black.

Now Farmers Best Market becomes the city’s lone Black-owned grocery store.

The weeklong grand opening celebration will feature a number of multi-ethnic activities, including performances by an African dance troupe and a live Mariachi band, and live broadcasts at the store, located in the Back of the Yards community, by local radio stations.

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