After months of closures, Arizona black restaurant owners say support is ‘a blessing’ – AZCentral

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The last couple of months have been a roller coaster for downtown Phoenix restaurant owner Phil Johnson. During the coronavirus pandemic, the usually bustling Roosevelt Row, which is home to Johnson’s restaurant Trapp Haus, turned into a ghost town as he switched his restaurant to takeout service only.

Trapp Haus reopened for dine-in service on May 14. Then, just as momentum was starting to pick back up, Gov. Doug Ducey issued a statewide curfew in response to protests in downtown Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson.

Johnson closed his restaurant early on Sunday night to make sure his staff could get home safely. After being closed Monday through Wednesday, he planned to restore his normal business hours starting on Thursday, June 4.

He then started seeing posts on social media about a group planning to meet at his restaurant for a late lunch at 4 p.m on June 4. According to the posts, the group was encouraging as many people as possible to eat at Trapp Haus.

“That’s something that the community did on their own,” Johnson said. “But we are going to try to feed as many people as we can.”

Why one Arizona restaurant sold out of food on Tuesday

Trapp Haus isone of several metro Phoenix restaurants being visited by customers looking to support black business owners throughout the Valley.

This week Local First Arizona and other local groups published lists of black-owned restaurants, encouraging the community to show support. The Arizona Republic compiled a list of more than 50 black-owned restaurants in metro Phoenix and a list of three restaurants with both top-notch food and social distancing-friendly ordering options. 

Tuesday, June 2 became #BlackOutTuesday, after a social campaign started by the music industry. People and businesses across the country posted photos of black squares on social media to show solidarity with the fight to end racism and police brutality.

On Tuesday, West Alley BBQ and Smokehouse sold out of food by 4:30 p.m. The Chandler restaurant, co-owned by Christian Brantley, usually serves dinner until 9 p.m. The next day, Brantley doubled the amount of food the restaurant usually prepares for Wednesday service; he sold out again, this time by 7 p.m.

“It’s just amazing,” Brantley said. “Seeing this support from our community is a blessing.”

The amount of customers, new and old, who are visiting the restaurant speaks to how much the local Chandler community is listening to the national conversation, Brantley said.

“You have all 50 states protesting right now, you are looking at a whole country changing before our eyes,” Brantley said. “This is all about understanding there is a problem in America today and about coming together.”

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‘We’ve been busy all week and it’s a blessing’

Brantley said a flood of customers starting coming in after he posted in support of Blackout Tuesday on the restaurant’s Facebook and Instagram pages. Online orders along with customers looking to dine-in at the restaurant started to pick up. 

The support could not have come at a better time, Brantley said. The restaurant reopened for dine-in service on May 26 after being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“There is not a restaurant in America that didn’t feel the hurt from COVID,” Brantley said. “So we just want everyone to understand the gratitude and that there are a lot of black-owned businesses out there. We hope there’s support for everyone.”

SHOW YOUR SUPPORT: Looking for black-owned restaurants in Arizona? Here are more than 50 around metro Phoenix

Another Chandler restaurant Ocean Blue Caribbean Restaurant and Bar has also seen a spike of new customers this week, said Ramone Smith, an employee.

“We’ve been busy all week and it’s a blessing,” Smith said. “You know, we’ve been here for ten years.”

The restaurant has seen support throughout the last few months during the coronavirus pandemic, Smith said, mostly from regulars coming by for takeout. But Smith is hopeful the new customers who have shown support this week will continue to come back.

“We got a lot of feedback that they loved the food,” he said. 

The restaurant has not sold out of any of their menu items but has seen a steady stream of customers, Smith said. 

Here’s what the additional support means to one restaurant owner 

At Trapp Haus, Johnson worked Thursday morning to balance his excitement over returning to normal business hours with cooking, cleaning and making sure the restaurant was ready for customers. 

Unsure of how many people would show up and trying to not get his hopes up, he decided to cook a regular amount of food.

“I am trying to treat every day like the same so we don’t get disappointed,” Johnson said. “Barbecue restaurants are known to sell out. So when we’re out, we’re out.”

Johnson is also adamant about following safety measures surrounding the ongoing risk of coronavirus. Tables will be limited to seating five customers at a time and if the restaurant fills up, customers will have to order takeout, he said.

Johnson also plans to close his restaurant at 8 p.m., taking the last order around 7:30 p.m. in order for his staff to make it out of downtown safely. He is, however, excited to welcome customers looking to support his business. 

“It brings tears to my eyes that the community is behind me and supporting me,” Johnson said, “and to know that I’m not fighting this fight on my own.”

Reach the reporter at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @tirionmorris, on Facebook at Tirion Rose and on Instagram at tirionrose. 

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