SBA Recovery Programs Allow This Business to Keep On Cookin’ Through Pandemic
What happens when you fuse traditional Italian recipes with soul food grilling? You get The Black Italian Grill Kitchen. In 2008, Chef Paula Hunter was cooking and needed to add meat to her traditional marinara sauce. So, she used hamburgers just cooked by her husband, “Grill Master” Anthony Hunter. The combination of flavors was unique, and a fast-casual catering company was born.
Paula, who had lost her job due to the 2009 recession, focused on growing her small business and expanding the menu with more Italian family recipes and Anthony’s grilled meats. The Black Italian business continued to grow.
Paula and Anthony honed their business skills by taking classes offered by the SBA and its resource partners – the Louisville Small Business Development Center (SBDC), SCORE and Women's Business Center (WBC) of Kentucky, as well as Louisville Metro Government, and Community Ventures, an SBA microlender.
By participating in these business-building programs, The Black Italian received an SBA microloan as well as a grant from The City of Louisville. The funds allowed them to purchase a delivery vehicle, fuel working capital and open a brick-and-mortar catering location.
Opening the fast casual restaurant in February 2020 had allowed them to offer carryout, delivery and curbside services to their customers. However, right after that point, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing their catering business to close for 15 months.
The Hunters received an SBA COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) to catch up on past-due bills for utilities, rent, and supplies. They also successfully applied for a PPP First and Second Draw Loan, which helped tremendously with payroll and affiliated costs.
In May 2021, The Black Italian received a Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) grant. Things are not back to normal, but their catering business has increased. The Louisville SBDC has been with them every step of their journey, providing no-fee counseling, educational seminars and webinars, assisting with loan applications, marketing, pandemic recovery and more.They also received small business counseling from Louisville SCORE and the WBC, two more SBA resource partners.
They were the first occupant of the food and beverage affiliated Chef Space, launched with an SBA grant to the WBC. No stone was left unturned. Business is close to pre-pandemic levels. They expect to surpass 2019 sales within a matter of months.
Paula stated, “We could not have accomplished this without all of the support we received from SBA, its resource partners and the small business resources in the City of Louisville.”
The Black Italian was featured on the TV Show "America’s Best Restaurants" that aired February 16, 2022, and is being filmed by a local food show for broadcast in Spring 2022. They also received a 2021 Certificate of Excellence Award from Restaurant Guru as a recommended restaurant.
Despite the pandemic, The Black Italian has received numerous other awards and recognition the past few years. Thankful for the opportunities and success, Paula and Anthony are expanding their involvement in the community. The Hunters believe in giving back to their employees, community, and church. They started a related ministry that focuses on what they call “family focus first” and have plans to expand that initiative soon into a nonprofit.
Paula said, “We are all part of a community and assist others often. When they succeed, we all succeed. And we intend to expand community outreach through our business.”