Getting creative was vital for three South Side restaurants’ survival

ANGEL MAGWOOD said that her husband Eddie “Barnz” Magwood “just went crazy” in his effort to keep their restaurant “Back to the Foodture” in business. In addition to their South Side location, they just opened a new location next to PPG Paints Arena.

by Aidan Voorhees, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Times have been tough for everyone since the COVID-19 pandemic started forcing people to stay home in spring 2020.

Not being able to sit down and eat was the end of the road for many businesses in Pittsburgh, but for South Side restaurants like Back to the Foodture, Carmi Soul Food and Gabriella’s Gourmet, getting creative was vital for survival. All of them are Black-owned businesses.

“We call it monster marketing,” said Angel Magwood, co-owner of Back to the Foodture of her husband Eddie “Barnz” Magwood’s plan to keep their restaurant alive.

Angel Magwood said that Barnz “just went crazy” in his effort to keep their restaurant in business.

“He bought a chicken suit, and he’d be outside dancing in the chicken suit,” she said.

The Magwoods opened Back to the Foodture in Pitcairn in 2018 before moving the restaurant to South Side Works in 2020. They added a second location across from PPG Paints arena at the start of 2023.

Social media advertising was a key factor in keeping business flowing for Back to the Foodture.

“Every day, when somebody came and ordered something, no matter what their food was, we would take pictures of everything that they ordered and put it on our social media pages,” Angel Magwood said.

DESPITE THESE DIFFICULT TIMES, Carleen King and her husband, Michael, have worked hard to keep Carmi Soul Food open. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

Carleen King, co-owner of Carmi Soul Food on East Carson Street, said that shifting completely online and selling their own spices were two strategies that they used to keep business moving.

“We got an excellent new spice line,” King said, “so even if you couldn’t come out to eat, you could cook Carmi food at home.”

King also said that partnering with GrubHub and DoorDash initially helped with covering some of the costs during the emergency situation but it was not a long-term solution because of how much profit the food delivery companies took from each order.

“They were able to keep the kitchen moving,” King said. “You’re barely covering costs, including employees and labor and all that. So, it’s helping with costs, but there’s no profit in it.”

Angel Magwood said that Back to the Foodture had to cut DoorDash and Uber Eats when the pandemic began to affect business.

“They take a percentage, and right at that time, we couldn’t afford to pay that percentage because our sales went down so much,” she said.

PETE HENDERSON acquired Gabriella’s in 2017 but has over 30 years of experience as a cook. He credits his ability to stay open to the fact that he runs the restaurant by himself.

Pete Henderson, owner of Gabriella’s Gourmet on the corner of East Carson Street and Third Street, said his restaurant may have picked up more business during the lockdown because so many other restaurants closed while he was able to remain open.

“In a way, we got to be recognizable,” he said.

Henderson acquired Gabriella’s in 2017 but has over 30 years of experience as a cook. He credits his ability to stay open to the fact that he runs the restaurant by himself.

“I’m just here every day,” Henderson said. “I get up and I make it. So, if it’s a good day, it’s a good day. If it’s a bad day, we take that as well. We don’t want too many bad days, but we take them as they come.”

While these businesses have found ways to stay open, other Pittsburgh restaurants have not been so fortunate. The Original Hot Dog Shop in Oakland closed at the beginning of the pandemic, and Dough bar, just a block away from Carmi on the South Side, shuttered its doors at the beginning of February.

King believes this may be a result of inflation, as well as the fact that the government stopped giving out stimulus checks.

“Everybody’s struggling,” she said, “so one of the first things that go is entertainment when you’re cutting budget and thinking of what’s going, and eating out is entertainment.”

Despite these difficult times, King and her husband, Michael, have worked hard to keep Carmi open. “If a business can be check-to-check, I think that, you know, that’s kinda where we’ve existed, and here we are,” she said.

Angel Magwood has seen Back to the Foodture’s food and labor costs rise and said this could be a reason why other restaurants are struggling when these factors are combined with families struggling to find the money to eat out.

“A lot of times, people aren’t coming out to sit down and get those meals; they’re ‘Oh, McDonald’s has free kids meal Wednesdays.’ So, people don’t have that money like they had before, so it’s less sales coming in food-wise with us. But even though the sales are less, our food costs still go up,” she said.

Angel Magwood said the struggle of working through the pandemic taught her the value of saving on food costs.

“When COVID hit, that one extra wing or that one extra basket of fries, it adds up. So, it taught me to count food costs better,” she said.

While all three restaurateurs work to put food on the table for their customers, they do their jobs to put food on the table for their families, too.

“Eight hours is sufficient enough to run the business and earn me a little bit of a paycheck,” Henderson said. “I’m not making a lot of a paycheck. But this is my business, and what sacrifices were made, I do this to feed my family, and take care of them as well.”

King also urges consumers to shop locally.

“If you are able to afford to go out every now and again, because it’s hard, just choose local,” she said. “And not just for restaurants, for any businesses.”

Angel Magwood acknowledged the tough times that local businesses have been through.

“I applaud everybody that went through the pandemic and is still here, because it definitely is hard,” she said. “I know that we’re not 100 percent out of it, but I feel like everybody’s trying to make a way. Everybody just has to work with everybody and be patient through this time while we all rebuild.”






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