ST. PETERSBURG, FL – It took African-American business owner Elihu Brayboy three hours to complete a Paycheck Protection Program loan application through the Bank of America website after the coronavirus pandemic, and 10 minutes to Bank of America to decline the loan.
Brayboy’s restaurant, Chief’s Creole Cafe in southern St. Petersburg, has been a Bank of America depositor for six years – the company opened in 2014. However, Brayboy said the reason Bank of America had refused the loan was that he was not a bank customer of theirs.
“America’s predatory lending practices looked at us again as we realized that it was difficult to get bank financing as an African-American company doing business in an African-American community,” he told Patch.
When he started the Chief’s Creole Cafe, Brayboy said he was struggling to get financial support to start the business. Entrepreneurs told him he was crazy to open a restaurant in an African American community versus Central Avenue in downtown St. Pete because they doubted the African American community would support the business and that the whites would not venture south of St. Pete.
A Bank of America official told Brayboy that because he was not an established business or in a profitable area, they couldn’t lend him money.
However, Brayboy said six years later 65% of his clientele are white and the remaining 35 are black. His clients come from Tampa, Brandon, Tierra Verde, Safety Harbor and around St. Pete.
Time reported that Across the countryAfrican Americans suffer disproportionately from the impact of the coronavirus and its economic fallout, and have struggled to access federal aid programs designed to mitigate the damage caused by coronavirus shutdowns.
A set of conditions that favored large corporations, including many banks only approving loans for existing clients and delaying the application of sole proprietorship, excluded minority-owned businesses, Time reported. For those who have received loans under the program, advocates fear that certain conditions will make it harder for many to qualify for their forgiveness, which could overwhelm them with years of debt.
At the start of the pandemic, after being deemed ineligible by Bank of America, Brayboy said he could have gone to another large financial institution. But since there are no big banks within the African American community, he felt like he would get the same answer.
“When I filled out the online PPP loan application, she asked me what my race was,” Brayboy said. “What if I’m black or white for a loan? How does that make my credit good or bad, or how much money I have?”
Brayboy and his wife were forced to cut the restaurant’s hours of operation and secure payroll out of their own pockets so they could survive and not fire staff members. Business has been slow since the start of the pandemic; however, it has started to pick up since the George Floyd protests that began in St. Pete on May 30.
“The recognition of this movement now – thanks to George Floyd – has made people recognize that they need to do something to help African American businesses,” Brayboy said. “It helps us a lot because we are getting business that we wouldn’t normally have.”
The Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation is the only approved funding Brayboy said he has received for his business in its six years of operation.
Patch has contacted Bank of America for comment and will update this article when we get back to you.
For more information on Brayboy’s New Orleans-style restaurant, visit Chef’s Creole coffee.