Family business making strides in challenging times
The business landscape has changed quite a bit in the last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many local businesses were also impacted by the ongoing civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in May.
The MSR spoke with owners Dwight (DA) and Ivy Alexander (IA), co-owners of Smoke In the Pit in the heart of South Minneapolis to see how the eatery has fared during these uncertain times.
MSR: How has business been during the pandemic and civil unrest?
Ivy Alexander: The business address is 3733 Chicago, about 1000 feet where the unrest happened or the unrest started. During the pandemic, we remained open because we are a curbside-takeout-pick-up restaurant.
It didn’t affect us to have to shut down, but it did affect us because we had to go to our delivery service. People were and still are really social distancing. With the unrest happening, there was an influx of business and the sales were out the door.
People were walking from down the block [of George Floyd’s memorial site] to purchase our food. The blockage was north, south, east and west.
Due to the [intersection] blockage, we did not have our usual customers. We noticed our regular customers and our sales started trickling down since. It was hard for our delivery service to get into the area. The pandemic and the unrest have dampened our sales and caused us to decrease our hours. We are now closed on Mondays for a Mental Day.
MSR: How did you get into business?
Dwight Alexander: Cooking is something I love to do, and when I was working, I couldn’t beat the clock on time. If I couldn’t make the clock on time then I would be out of a job and that’s what happened.
After I got fired, I asked God if he ever gave me another job, I would respect it ’cause I lost a big income when I was in the workforce. I had to find something to do that I loved, to make me want to get up and be motivated.
I knew I had a family to take care of and to feed— that’s how I started this business in our backyard with that particular grill. I had to make cooking full-time. The mentality of the smoke motivated me to make up the lost income and to make something my own.
MSR: What advice do you have for others thinking about going into
IA: Being a Black business owner and working a job outside of your own business gives you more of a drive. You work harder ’cause you’re working for self and it gives you the power to make decisions. You work even harder because it leaves something for your generations to come.
We have property now and we give back to the community by employing people in the neighborhood. We, the Alexanders, are givers; we love to give back to the community. That’s one of the great things about having your own. It also gives the younger generations a view that you can do it. Get out there and get your 40 acres and a mule. I got mine at Smoke in the Pit.
MSR: What is one thing you have learned that you wish you knew when you
opened your business?
IA: I am a Black woman, CEO, co-owner of Smoke in the Pit, and also a military veteran. I believe we could have set my menu prices a little bit higher from the beginning. We should have researched the prices and marketing deeper. We think our prices were too low in the beginning so we had to raise it up a little.
People complained because they were used to one price, but I had to make some changes. People didn’t like it but they need to understand it has to make sense to stay in business. We have been in business for seven-plus years and I think we are going to make it.
IA: What’s your most popular item? Why do you think that is?
DA: Everything, because I made the menu. We believe the smoked wings because they’re smoked, not flame-broiled. Can’t get them for at least 100 miles. The wings have been a hit everywhere. Whoever has been served our smoked wings always wanted more.
What sets your business apart from similar businesses?
IA: The flavor of the food. Everything we do is from a recipe. We don’t just pour from a bag. People like to know we do our cooking with love and from a recipe. We cook, we prep, and we all learn the recipe.
Sometimes you go into restaurants and the meat may be good, but the sides are not or vice versa. Our meat complements our sides and our sides complement our meat. With family recipes, you get good food all around each and every time.
MSR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
IA: We want to speak on the blockage. When we first started on that block as a Black business owner it was diverse. We had to come in and prove we belong there. When we got there, there was a lot going on but we made it through the storm.
We began to work with everybody and became a tight-knit business group, helping each other out. When the George Floyd killing happened, I didn’t hold Cup Foods accountable—I fought the cop. I do not have a problem with Cup Foods reopening. I feel people need to heal from what has happened.
This is the first time people have acknowledged the police have done an unjust to our Black men and women. It is prominent that Cup Foods on 38th and Chicago remains a memorial site. Move the blockage! The blockage is causing the crime rate to rise in the area and it needs to stop.
Smoke in the Pit is located at 3733 Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis. For the most current hours and info, call 612-315-3145.