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Seattle Tour Company's Food Box Pivot Saves Small Businesses

11 November, 2020
food box

Photo by: courtesy of Angela Shen

Then, as summer approached in May, Washington Governor Jay Inslee phased in reopening of businesses, and people spent more time outside, cutting into sales. “It was a real roller coaster,” she says, as they sank below viability.

Then the George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter movement swelled throughout the country, and particularly in Seattle. As at the beginning of the pandemic, Shen saw people, including herself, wanting to do something, but struggling to pinpoint how. Spreadsheets of black-owned businesses circulated, reminiscent of the overwhelming blog from the market. She saw the same people who wanted to support the market wanting to support the black-owned businesses in the community and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

She gathered products from 11 black-owned businesses around town, including renowned chefs Edouardo Jordan and Makini Howell, and put them together into the Seattle Solidarity Box. The boxes launched on June 4, just a few days into the movement, and more than 900 sold in the first week, sending $65,000 of sales to the vendors and donating $9000 to the Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County Fund. Her flagging business was again revived. 

Food Box

Helping people easily and deliciously support local businesses and social justice solidified into Shen’s business model. In September, she launched a box for Hispanic Heritage Month, then after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the Rise for Equality Box, with portions of sales donated to Casa Latina and the ACLU, respectively.

Looking back, Shen tallies up at least 20 jobs brought back as they spent over a million dollars across more than 100 small businesses (including about 20 restaurants) – plus $60,000 donated to various non-profits. “In the short term, it feels like forever,” she says, but the pandemic keeps business in flux – they moved from a borrowed walk-in cooler to a rented warehouse, but she hesitates to sign a lease because sales swing so wildly and unpredictably. 

“We’ve been doing boxes for seven months, we did tours for 13 years,” she says. They’re learning, but she looks forward to returning to the business’s roots, in whatever small capacity she can – maybe with single-family tours for locals as soon as Thanksgiving. Prior to Covid-19, 60% of their customers were from out of town, now 90% are local, and she hopes to build on that connection. 

Just like back when the virus was still across an ocean, she constantly imagines the next iteration of Savor Seattle. “We’re all riding the same wave of uncertainty.”

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