Tomme Beevas turned his Minneapolis eatery into a donation center for those affected by the protests, and persevered in the face of threats.
In the wake of nationwide protests against the killing of black Americans by police, Inc. asked black business leaders in or near hot zones to tell us what they are experiencing.
Tomme Beevas co-founded his Twin Cities-based Pimento Jamaican Kitchen with just a gas grill and a $99 tent from Target. The Jamaican native moved to the U.S. in 1999 to study economics and political science. He would come home from his corporate job–leading community involvement at Cargill–and fire up his backyard grill to create the tastes of home. It ignited a business. Beevas and his neighbor Yoni Reinharz launched Pimento Jamaican Kitchen in 2012 and quickly gained recognition–the duo won on the Food Network’s reality competition show Food Court Wars a year later. Now the pair have a Minneapolis restaurant, a St. Paul eatery, an outpost in the Minneapolis TCF Bank Stadium, and a food truck. The company has grown revenue by20 percent annually and booked more than $2 million in revenue last year, Beevas told Inc.
On Sunday, Beevas and his team turned the Minneapolis location into a donation and staging center for essential supplies like masks, gloves, food, and water. The protests made it difficult for people to get crucial goods, prompting Beevas to issue a call on Twitter asking for supplies. He shares how he’s faced threats against his business and how he’s continued to give back to his community. –As told to Emily Canal
Since Covid-19, we’ve had to close our St. Paul location. We also haven’t been able to open our stadium location or food truck this year. We had carryout at our Minneapolis location and were allowed to slowly open on June 1.
The next pandemic we had to focus on was black people being murdered by police officers in this country. We’ve traditionally stayed out of it, but it’s gone on for too long now. Why should I stay quiet to protect my business when people are already on the front lines trying to protect my life? What’s the purpose of having a business if I don’t have a life?
We saw the need to step up. We closed the restaurant’s food services on Sunday to focus on relief services. Neighbors and people from around the world have been sending Amazon orders filled with things our community needs. We’re getting supplies and passing them directly to our community because grocery stores are closed. We’ve been able to feed 2,000 neighbors between Thursday and Tuesday.
We knew that by putting ourselves out there, we would naturally be a target. We planned for that. We know there are people out there who don’t want to see a black business or a black business leader have this much influence. By being in a leadership [role] and taking care of our community, there are people who are like, “That’s not the way that should be.”
There have been numerous messages about people targeting us. But we haven’t had anyone successfully attack us directly. We’re fully prepared. We’re protecting people first and protecting the property second. The only reason we are protecting the property is because it’s a symbol for the community. Because of the resources for our community that we have in our facility. We’re ensuring that the people who need food can get the supplies and equipment that have been donated.
Locals donate essential goods for community members affected by the protests in Minneapolis. CAITLIN ABRAMS
Someone posted a video of an employee on TikTok and the comments range from “great that you’re doing that” to “he’s looting” and “we need to take this guy out.”
As a black man in America, we have always lived with the threats and comments being made. In my ultra-liberal, ultra-educated, and ultra-affluent community, I fear taking my garbage out every single night. The fear that I could be targeted, or the restaurant could be targeted, is an everyday occurrence in our lives in America. That’s why we’re at the forefront ensuring that it never happens again. I think it’s about damn time all of us are able to walk in peace in our neighborhood and not fear our own neighbors calling the police on us.
I lost a former employee to police brutality. I’d always known him to have mental health issues. He had his neighbors call the police because he was threatening to hurt himself. The police came, and before they even engaged him, he was dead. They killed him. That is the reality that is pervasive within our society.
We are in this for the long haul; we’re going to solve this permanently. Not just for convictions [of policemen who have committed crimes], but we’re also expecting a change in legislation ensuring we have long-term, sustainable peace and safety for all citizens in Minneapolis.