- Faith & Family
Black owned establishments wrestle with the uncertainty of obtaining support from the very people they try to cater to. Black consumers also battle with supporting Black businesses due to their reputation for poor customer service. We’ve reached out to some local businesses who’ve sustained themselves over the course of time — which undoubtedly speaks to their ability to deliver customer satisfaction. There are some flagship establishments within our community who serve as an inspiration for their endurance and dedication to customer satisfaction.
MLK restaurant, located at 2469 NW 62nd St, has operated with Leonard Johnson as the owner since 2007 according to manager Deborah Hardwick. Hardwick has been the manager of MLK for four years and is thoroughly enjoying her role. When asked about her customer service philosophy, Hardwick stated, “The customer is always right”. She went on further to say, “I was a manager for a major food franchise for over 10 years. I started as a cashier and [eventually] was general manager of three chains. When new franchises opened, I would be responsible for training owners because of the success of my stores.”
Hardwick’s roll as manager requires coordination of the “front” and the “back”. The front is the place where a patron’s first impression is made, and the back (or the kitchen) is where satisfaction will either be determined or not. Both play a crucial part in the customer’s ultimate decision to return to an establishment. Hardwick explained that “we cook with real eggs from the chicken, not imitation.” This real food element as a staple of quality and soul food preparation time is legitimate cause for wait to obtain the taste that Blacks desire in our cuisine. She said that cooking food to order is important and takes longer than usual. Hardwick said that her desired turnaround time from the phone to the back or the front to the back is 15 minutes — at times it takes longer. According to Hardwick the key to MLK’s customer service success is due in large part to warm smiles and a friendly atmosphere. She said “you never know what a person is dealing with, a nice meal and friendly face could make their day go better”.
She would one day like to see MLK with a hostess to greet guests as they enter and accommodate their requests.
Nearby at The Bahamian Pot was born in 1988 out of a customer service demand during the food truck days at Miami Northwestern Sr. High School. In 1985, owner and manager Trudy Ellis began making sandwiches from her food service van to cater to the hungry crowd of students during lunch time. “The demand for [heartier] items for things such as pork chops and rice forced me to expand the menu,” Ellis says. Ellis who was a nurse at the time, along with her husband, combined their efforts to bring The Bahamian Pot to life. The menu caters to Bahamian style cuisine and is known for its boiled fish and grits. Ellis recalled when she first opened that “the lines would be down the street.” Her customer service philosophy is to create a “home away from” when you come to her place.
Ellis stated that “You must acknowledge that your customer is present in your place even when you know you can’t get to them right away or they will leave.”
These Black establishments prove that quality customer service exists within our community. Both these establishments believe the taste of their food will sustain their status as icons and staples of the Black community. Each has its own standard of friendliness and warmth to guarantee customer satisfaction. Decadent soul food requires a reasonable cook to order wait.
By Tanya Jackson
Miami Times writer