LISTEN to Melba Wilson’s episode of ESSENCE Podcast Network’s UnBossed here:
Just four short months ago, numerous businesses, particularly eateries, throughout New York City were thriving. But with the onslaught of the largest global pandemic in recent generations, many of those businesses have suffered a sad fate. With the permanent closing of some restaurants and the gradual reopening of others, it’s safe to say that many New Yorkers are just longing for a sense of normalcy. Melba’s Restaurant in Harlem is one of the iconic soul food mainstays that has done its best to provide that normalcy even in the middle of a health crisis.
“I have a community that is invested in me. And it’s also a community that I invest in. So we’re not going down, we’re definitely not going down without a fight,” owner, Melba Wilson told UnBossed host, Marquita Harris.
One of the ways she’s invested in the community is by feeding those who are risking their lives for the community, “It’s not [about] focusing on what we lost, it’s focusing on how do we regain. So one of the things we started doing was feeding frontline workers. Some of it we donated, and others we did for a quarter of what we would normally charge.”
Wilson cut her teeth at some of the most beloved restaurants in the city including Sylvia’s and Rosa Mexicano’s so it’s no wonder that with her passion for serving her community and her expertise that she would find a way to keep Melba’s afloat.
“Everything that I know how to do, I’m going to do. That’s what it’s about. It’s about surviving. And happiness.”
In this episode, Wilson digs into…
…JUST HOW BIG A LOSS THE BUSINESS HAS SUSTAINED
“Our largest client, that we do $10,000 for, canceled. It was a huge cancellation and so many clients in between, between March and July, that’s our primetime. And then of course, we pick up again Thanksgiving to New Years. We lost quite a few in the six figures, we lost a ton of money, monthly for the caterings.”
…THE INTERESTING WAY SHE SAVED $300,000
“Because I grew up seeing my mom do it, I too used to put money under my mattress. One day I was on a flight, and I heard the flight attendant say, “In case of an emergency, put on your mask first.” And I looked at my life. I’d been taking care of everybody else. And I said I don’t want to wake up one day and go, “What about me? What about me?” I’d worked in several restaurants, Rosa Mexicano’s, Sylvia’s, Windows on the World. Definitely Sylvia’s, Windows on the World, and I said, ‘Let me take a chance on me…let me count and see how much money I’ve saved.’ I started counting and ended up having a little over $300,000.”
…WHY FAITH WILL ALWAYS BEAT FEAR
“Everything in my life, people would say, ‘Oh, that wasn’t supposed to happen.’ The restaurant industry is a white male-dominated industry. Let’s call it what it is. And I’m a Black girl from Harlem. It was never supposed to be: You’re not going to open a restaurant. You’re a black girl. You’re from Harlem. Because you’re black, you’re female, and from Harlem. You’re definitely not going to do this! But I placed faith over fear at all times. And that’s what I’m doing in this situation. I have placed faith over fear, and that’s why we’re winning.”