This is the first in our series, “Banking on Change,” which showcases local entrepreneurs who are creating a positive impact in their community. The series will spotlight one local business each month.
When Tomme Beevas opened Pimento Kitchen in 2012, he knew he was heading into the unknown. But he had no idea the dramatic turns that were in store, nor how his restaurant would become a force for community change.
Were it not for the events of 2020, Pimento might have been just another entrepreneurial success story. The business did brisk business since opening at Burnsville Mall and winning in a Food Network reality show. Over time, the business expanded to Minneapolis’ Eat Street and opened additional locations at TCF Stadium and at St. Paul’s popular Keg and Case food market, not to mention a food truck and rum bar.
“Pimento was absolutely successful and growing exponentially,” Beevas said.
But like every restaurant, Pimento grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“Fortunately, it was an easier transition, as we had already pivoted to a Chipotle-style service model. And safety had always been a big part of what we were doing,” Beevas recalled.
The greater challenge was to juggle all the orders coming in simultaneously from several different takeout platforms.
“Ultimately, the business did okay during Covid, as the closing of other restaurants increased our exposure to newer markets. The real challenge was transitioning from 20% takeout to 80% takeout,” Beevas said.
Devastated, But Driven To Action
It wasn’t months of COVID-19 that altered Pimento’s trajectory, but instead the death of George Floyd. On Monday, May 25, 2020, less than two miles from Beevas’ restaurant, Floyd died after being stopped by Minneapolis Police. Video shows a police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for an extended period of time before his death.
“I heard about it that night, but I just couldn't watch the video,” Beevas said.
That Wednesday, Beevas’ father, who lives in New York, sent him a link to the video showing Floyd’s death.
“I thought, if my dad is talking about this in New York then I need to watch it. So, I locked myself in the garage, pulled up the video and I allowed myself to bawl,” said Beevas.
The next day, ironically on his birthday, Beevas arrived at work determined to take action.
“I felt that we had to do something. We needed to talk to the mayor, city council – we needed to get everyone together and do a summit and talk about ‘how did this happen?’” he said.
His employees had a different idea. Pointing to the lack of open supermarkets due to both COVID-19 and the unrest following Floyd’s death, they suggested a food drive.
“They said, ‘We're hurting. We need healing. And we're hungry. We have no place to get food,’” Beevas remembered.
Despite having worked on the problem of food deserts globally when he was director of community involvement at Cargill, Beevas said he “didn't understand the extent to which Minneapolis and St. Paul themselves were food deserts.”
The next day, Pimento announced a food drive with modest expectations. Beevas and his employees were ecstatic to see what happened next.
“We thought that it might be a few cases of water, perhaps a few boxes of food. By that Sunday we were so overwhelmed by donations we had to close the restaurant,” Beevas said.
Putting Relief on the Menu
Overnight, Pimento became an epicenter for community relief and healing. The following weekend, Pimento held a community festival that included music, COVID-19 screening, painting plyboards on boarded storefront windows, and, of course, donations.
“We had a line of cars coming to donate products – and a line of cars coming to pick up products,” Beevas said.
The third weekend after the death of George Floyd, Pimento hosted a summit on police homicide. Participants included the mayor, city council leaders, corporate leaders and community activists.
“We had 150 of the top influencers come to Pimento to talk about how we're going to solve this. They said what we need is not another speech-giver or another fundraiser, but an umbrella organization that provides resources to those of us who are already out there on the front lines,” Beevas said.
Thus was born Pimento Relief Services, whose mission is to provide operational resources to those who are on the front lines of economic, political and social liberation. As Beevas explained, this liberation entails the creation of more Black-owned businesses, the establishment of more Black political power and the promotion of reconciliation and healing in society at large.
“The combination of those three things is the best approach to protecting and keeping Black people safe. Because this time this has to be solved,” Beevas said.
Rather than adding to what he calls the “nonprofit industrial complex,” Beevas said that Pimento Relief Services was incorporated as a benefit corporation. An associated 501(c)3 organization was set up to allow for donation funding.
Why a benefit corporation? Beevas asserted that “businesses have always been pivotal in making societal change. Oftentimes, businesses are faster to respond to society's concerns than government, and even nonprofits, because businesses have the freedom to do what is right should they so decide.”
An Outsider’s Perspective
Being Jamaican and being a business owner gives Beevas an outsider’s perspective. And that’s a good thing.
“I grew up with doctors, lawyers and judges who look like me. The Prime Minister looks like me,” he said. “That allows me to think that the world is my oyster. It gives me a different perspective.”
He contrasts his experience with what African Americans face growing up in the U.S. Beevas said they are taught from a young age that certain opportunities aren’t available to them given their race.
“African Americans are told ‘that’s the way it is,’” he said.
What Pimento Can Be
Following extensive planning, Beevas has big plans in 2021 for Pimento Relief Services. He said to keep an eye out for the Pimento-backed “Twin Cities Can Be” campaign – the first U.S. incarnation of the global Cities CAN B movement, an effort to make cities more prosperous, sustainable, inclusive and resilient.
Although Pimento has raised more than $150,000 from community members, Beevas is looking for corporations and foundations to pitch in.
“This is not simply a nice-to-do. The economy will never realize its full potential until we all are able to participate equitably,” he said.
For more information
Pimento Kitchen: pimento.com
- Pimento Jamaican Kitchen & Rum Bar: 2524 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis, MN, 55404
- Pimento Jamaican Kitchen at Keg & Case Market: 902 7th St. W., St Paul, MN, 55102
Pimento Relief Services: pimentoreliefservices.org
- Make a donation via Venmo: @PimentoKitchen
Illustration by Justine Lecouffe