Case Studies in Small Business Resilience

Covid-19 has presented the hospitality industry with a long and ever-growing list of challenges. In this five episode arc, made in partnership with TD Bank, The Big Food Question takes a close look at case studies where small businesses explore creative solutions to the problems exacerbated by the pandemic. From pooling resources using cooperative models, to navigating the complicated landscape of government loans; this series covers the many accomplishments of New York City entrepreneurs and community leaders as they strive to keep the city’s vital food and beverage businesses thriving.


Episode 39: How Can Small Businesses Find Funding in a Post-Pandemic World?

As pandemic relief funds (like PPP and EIDL) are exhausted, many small businesses are still in need of grants, loans, and other financial services. In this episode we discuss new rounds of relief available through the American Rescue Plan. Plus, there are myriad evergreen opportunities through the Small Business Administration and nonprofit organizations like Acendus and the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation.


Episode 40: How Do You Start A Worker Cooperative?

Worker cooperatives are worker owned and democratically controlled businesses. They have been shown to lower pay disparities and demonstrate resilience in the face of crisis. But how do they run on a day-to-day basis? How can you start one or transform an existing business into a cooperative model? What potential do cooperatives have for strengthening our economy and our food system? 

This episode addresses these questions and more. Commissioner Jonnel Doris of New York City’s Department of Small Business Services provides essential tips and resources for any New Yorkers interested in starting a cooperative. Steph Wiley and Karna Ray, worker-owners at the Black-led food distribution cooperative Brooklyn Packers, share their experience operating under this model as well as their vision for a more equitable food system. 


Episode 41: What Will it Take to Bring Back New York City’s Nightlife Industry?

New York City’s mandated lockdown presented overwhelming challenges for bars, clubs, and restaurants in New York City. The city’s nightlife industry is made up of 25,000 establishments that support nearly 300,000 jobs with $13.1 billion in wages, and $35 billion in economic activity. Many of these businesses turned to NYC’s Office of Nightlife for guidance and support during the pandemic.

The Office of Nightlife (part of Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment) is a liaison between NYC’s nightlife industry and all other City agencies. Its purpose is to help establish and coordinate systemic solutions to support the nighttime economy, culture, and quality of life. In this episode we hear from Rafael Espinal, who sponsored the bill to create the Office of Nightlife in 2017, and Ariel Palitz, the office’s first Senior Executive Director who has played a big role in guiding the industry through Covid-19’s myriad impacts.


Episode 42: Can Online Food Businesses Pivot to In-Person Service?

The challenges presented to restaurant owners during the pandemic have been countless. Some businesses have closed. Others have opted to ditch in-person dining and opted for take-away or delivery models. Both local meal delivery and nationwide shipping of meal kits and pantry staples have gained popularity. 

A rarer take is shifting a business that solely offered online orders and pivoting to brick and mortar service. But that’s exactly what Chef Surbhi Sanhi did. While most restaurants were doing the opposite, Sanhi found a way to turn Tagmo, her online business, into a physical storefront, bringing her unique South Asian sweets to the masses at South Street Seaport.


Episode 43: Is it Time to Reinvent Restaurants?

After closing Meme’s Diner in November 2020, co-owner Libby Willis wanted to preserve the sense of community the restaurant fostered but wasn’t ready to open another traditional restaurant. Instead, she has transformed what restaurant operations can look like. Her new enterprise, KIT, is operating as an incubator of sorts, sharing the burden of business ownership with a cohort of owner-operated businesses while creating a cohesive experience for diners. Gain insight into how KIT is operating and the potential Libby sees for creating a more inclusive industry.