James Beard Investment Fund Supports Black & Indigenous-Owned Food & Beverage Businesses

The James Beard Foundation is honoring the immeasurable contributions that Black and Indigenous communities have made to the modern American foodscape through an investment fund.

The James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans is a new grant initiative to provide financial resources for food or beverage businesses that are majority-owned by Black or Indigenous individuals. It’s a component of the organization’s Open For Good campaign launched in April to rebuild an independent restaurant industry that is stronger, more equitable, more sustainable, and more resilient post-pandemic.

“The new Fund is part of the Foundation’s ongoing commitment to continually lift up the Black and Indigenous business owners in its industry, not just in light of the pandemic, but for good,” says James Beard Foundation vice president of community Colleen Vincent. “Financial resource is that much more impactful when coupled with support from organizations and experts who make themselves available to provide guidance on professional skills like marketing, structuring business plans, and negotiating contracts. The Foundation is creating new partnerships to deliver this value to its grant recipients in an effort to see these businesses thrive for the long term.”

The Foundation said proper appreciation of the contributions of Black and Indigenous Americans to the nation’s food culture requires paying homage to all types of food and beverage businesses — not merely those acknowledged at the James Beard Awards. Food trucks, pop-up supper clubs, fast-casual restaurants, and brewpubs are all a part of the unique culinary fabric of this country, the Foundation said. The new Fund aims to support and encourage businesses of all forms that help to make American food delicious and diverse.

The Fund will disburse grants equally across Black and Indigenous populations throughout the United States. Using the most recent census data, six regions of the country have been delineated, each containing 16-17% of the total Black and Indigenous population in the U.S.

To help guide the development of criteria, craft partnerships to deliver non-financial resources to grantees, and to support the promotion of application cycles, the Foundation created the JBF Fund Leadership Committee. Founding committee members include several Indigenous entrepreneurs:

  • Bleu Adams, IndigeHub, and JBF Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program Fellow

Bleu is a serial entrepreneur and founder of Black Sheep Café and Blue Poblano, a culmination of Bleu’s love of food, art and her culture. Bleu was one of 21 recipients in the nation to receive a scholarship to attend the First Annual James Beard Foundation’s Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (WEL) program in 2017. Although Bleu will always seek involvement in the food scene, her true passion lies in economics, business infrastructure and strengthening her community. These two passions came together in the form of Indigehub. Bleu created Indigehub to function as a space where entrepreneurs are born through creative collaboration, business education and networking. Indigehub is helping to combat some of the unique challenges that Native American reservations are currently facing. Bleu’s mission is to strengthen not only her own Navajo community but to also connect Native American reservations across the country. Bleu believes that by providing a place to unite, the Tribal Nations can work as a whole to create a platform for current and future generations to work towards a better economic future while maintaining their rich culture.

  • Michael E. Roberts, President and CEO, First Nations Development Institute

Native Business previously interviewed Michael E. Roberts (Tlingit), President and CEO of First Nations Development Institute, about how the nonprofit invests in “dynamic entrepreneurs” and in “their big ideas. We have a lot of faith in the genius of Indian Country, and we invest in grassroots, early stage, community, social entrepreneurs,” Roberts states. “We make small and sometimes large-size investments in them, with the full knowledge that they can change the world.”

READ MORE: First Nations on Fiscal Responsibility & Investing in Early Stage Entrepreneurs

  • Sean Sherman, Chef, Author, and Activist, The Sioux Chef, and JBF Leadership Award Honoree

Sean Sherman, the Oglala Lakota founder and CEO of The Sioux Chef, is a James Beard Award winning cookbook author and entrepreneur playing a vital role in the revitalization of Indigenous foodways. Most recently, his team opened the Indigenous Food Lab inside Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

READ MORE: Indigenous Food Lab Opens at Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market

The Indigenous Food Lab is a professional, classroom kitchen that expands on The Sioux Chef’s return to pre-colonial foodways. The Sioux Chef brand is a multifaceted empire: food truck, catering business, nonprofit, educator and incubator for a growing league of Native chefs.

Sherman and co-owner Dana Thompson’s nonprofit, NāTIFS (North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems), is responsible for the Indigenous Food Lab, which will continue the nonprofit’s mission through educational videos, training and classes.

READ MORE: Chef Sean Sherman Wins James Beard Leadership Award 

  • Dana Thompson, Co-Owner and Activist, The Sioux Chef, Executive Director, North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems

Dana Thompson is the owner/COO of the culinary team known as the Sioux Chef. She is a lineal descendant of the Wahpeton-Sisseton and Mdewakanton Dakota Tribes and lifetime Minnesota native. She has been active in the food sovereignty movement for the past six years.

  • Heather Dawn Thompson, Principal, Native American Capital

Heather Dawn Thompson is a nationally recognized Native American lawyer, leader, and Indian Country economic development expert, and is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation. She is with the Indian Law Practice of Greenberg & Traurig, and a Principal with Native American Capital: Tribal Opportunity Zones Venture Group and with 7 Generations: Native Indoor Farms. Ms. Thompson is the author of the well-read “The Competitive Advantages of Doing Business with Native American Tribal Governments.”

Native American Capital (NAC) is a Native American-owned consultancy located in the Washington D.C. Metro Area. NAC serves a wide range of Indian Country clients — Tribes, Indian-owned businesses, businesses seeking partnerships with Tribes, and investors seeking to capitalize Native American-owned enterprises.

Additional JBF Fund Leadership Committee members include:

  • Cheryl Day, Baker and Author, Back in the Day Bakery, JBF Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund Grantee
  • Carla Hall, Celebrity Chef and Cookbook Author
  • Raymond P. Lewis, President, RPL Consulting, LLC (Events Marketing, Public, Community Relations Firm)
  • Zella Palmer, Chair, Dillard University Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture
  • Alexander Smalls, Chef, Restaurateur, and Author, Alexander Smalls & Company LLC

A complete outline of criteria, regions, and categories is listed below. The Fund is launching with support from the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, who contributed $100,000 in proceeds from their annual Pinot Noir Auction which took place on August 13, 2020. The Fund will also be the beneficiary of proceeds from the “HEARD Initiative” bracelet created by chef Ming Tsai and chef George Mandakas of Chef Metal Jewelry (chefmetal.com). Donations to the Fund can be made at members.jamesbeard.org/jbf-investment-fund or by contacting grants@jamesbeard.org.