An ‘uneven recovery’: Some Bed-Stuy restaurants still in deep water amid pandemic

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Cononana is one of many Bed-Stuy businesses still rebounding from the pandemic.

COVID-19 and its variants have taken countless comforts from the people of New York as well as the country at large. The nation has suffered from the loss of businesses, relationships, and the feeling of safety, and nowhere is this more felt than neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant — one of the communities hardest hit by COVID-19 since March 2020.

Restaurants across the Big Apple have struggled through the pandemic as traffic slowed and jobs dried up. Two Brooklyn eateries in particular, both located in Bedford-Stuyvesant and owned by minorities, have been hit especially hard and are still struggling, despite a recent ease-up on mask and vaccine mandates.

The Southern Comfort, owned by Kirk and Shawanna McDonald, is a Bed-Stuy staple featuring a wide variety, predictably, of Southern soul food. Their menu features items like the “Chicken Comfortable Meal,” “Cajun Chicken Noodle Soup,” and a unique dish called “Soullll Rolls.” 

Despite its tasty eats, The Southern Comfort is just barely getting by.

“We’ve literally just been trying to keep our heads above water for the past two years but we simply don’t have enough capital to sustain the fight,” say the owners on an online fundraising page.

The page, created by the owners, aims to bring in $40,000 for one of Bed-Stuy’s favorite family-owned restaurants.

“We were unable to obtain the public funding that was available to some businesses,” owners continued. “[O]ur situation is dire as our doors will close for good unless capital is raised by the end of February.”

Another local favorite, a Vietnamese restaurant named Coconana, is struggling to stay afloat after opening its doors in November of last year. It’s owned by two Vietnamese immigrant women who want to bring the cuisine they grew up with to Prospect Heights. Their menu is filled with staples like pho noodle soup and bahn mi sandwiches.

“Our passion influences Coconana to bring Vietnamese culture to the vibrant New York City food scene,” say the founders, who launched a similar online fundraiser to The Southern Comfort’s. “We want it to be a place where you feel comfortable to stay in and let time melt away, a place that feels separate from the bustle of the city outside.”

Coconana is another restaurant that ended up ineligible for government funding, and the recent spread of the Omicron variant has left it, like The Southern Comfort, scrambling for ways to make ends meet. 

This, and various other unpredictable factors, have led to what Brooklyn business leaders call an “uneven recovery” for restaurateurs.

“Brooklyn’s restaurant industry is facing an uneven recovery,” Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Randy Peers told Brooklyn Paper. “Some fortunate businesses supported by patrons and an easing of COVID-19 restrictions are seeing a return to normalcy, somewhat, and many others are still reeling from the economic impacts of the last two years and ongoing challenges.”

But there’s ways to help, said the head of the borough business-boosting group.

“Through programs supported by NYC Small Business Resource Network and the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) funding we secured, the Chamber has helped hundreds of local and diverse businesses hang on and get back on their feet,” he said, “and we’re aggressively reaching out to those businesses who still need help in all neighborhoods across the borough.”

In the meantime, Brooklyn foodies, Bed-Stuy residents, and anyone with a heart for good cooking and minority-owned businesses can help contribute to these restaurants by patronizing them, or donating to their respective GoFundMe pages.

Donate to The Southern Comfort here, and to Coconana here.