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Films Debut Spotlighting Black-Owned Businesses In #NBAFinals’ Markets

Restaurants in LA, Miami featured in videos as part of ESPN's collaborative Champion Black Businesses initiative; the spots' respective owners weigh in

As the world recovers from the pandemic and states begin to reopen, ESPN recognizes that Black-owned businesses have been disproportionally affected. Black business owners are more likely to report difficulty obtaining loans, express fears about permanently closing, and predict declining revenues in the coming year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week ESPN, in collaboration with ABC, the NBA, and The Undefeated, announced the Champion Black Businesses initiative, part of ESPN’s “Rise Together” campaign. Champion Black Businesses elevates Black-owned businesses and their stories and cements the importance their imprint has on their communities.

ESPN is proud to help tell the story of athletes fighting for the NBA championship and social justice. It has inspired ESPN to extend its platform to the Black community champions who continue to fight for each other. By highlighting these stories of determination, leadership, and perseverance, ESPN wants to show that we can all win when we rise together.

As part of the initiative, ESPN spotlights two specific Black-owned businesses from the two NBA Finals team markets through custom features. The two chosen businesses, Lil Greenhouse Grill in Miami and Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen in Los Angeles, were revealed today via two unique films (see the videos above and below) highlighting each business’ impact on their respective community. The films debuted ESPN’s digital and social media channels as well as The Undefeated.

Q&A with Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen Owners, Los Angeles, Yonnie Hagos and Ajay Relan:

What does it mean to you to be part of ESPN and the NBA’s #ChampionBlackBusinesses initiative?
Relan: It’s an honor to be featured as part of ESPN’s initiative. Our first restaurant concept, The Parlor, has become known as one of the best places to watch sports in Los Angeles. The Parlor gave us the experience to have the confidence to launch the Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen brand, so sports is in our DNA.

How does NBA fandom fit into your life, culture, and your business?
Relan: Being from here, we bleed purple and gold. There’s nothing like being in this city when the Lakers are winning. We couldn’t be more excited about the possibility of them bringing home another championship to the city, especially with everything going on in the world – especially the same season that we lost Kobe [Bryant] and Gigi [Kobe Bryant’s daughter] the way we did. We can’t wait to get back to Staples [Center, home of the Lakers].

(L): Lil Greenhouse Grill Owners, Miami, Nicole Gates (L) and Karim Bryant; (R): Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen Owners, Los Angeles, Ajay Relan (L) Yonnie Hagos.
(Photos courtesy of the respective businesses)

Q&A with Lil Greenhouse Grill Owners, Miami, Karim Bryant and Nicole Gates

What does it mean to you to be part of ESPN and the NBA’s #ChampionBlackBusinesses initiative?
Gates: This is epic! What an amazing opportunity for a small family-run business like ours to be recognized by a global giant like ESPN. It’s great to be a part of Champion Black Business with the NBA and ESPN, but we firmly believe we deserve this recognition because we are a good business, period. Consistent. Ethical. Doing our part in creating a better world by improving the neighborhood where we live. Providing jobs and creating a space that highlights the benefits of this progressive and healing community.

What was your mentorship session with ABC’s Shark Tank investor and branding expert Daymond John like?
Gates: When he appeared on the screen, it felt like a movie, and we couldn’t believe we had starring roles. It was an intense moment for Chef Bryant, who sees John as an inspiration for his creation of brands that bring out the best of our culture. That was our vision when we created Lil Greenhouse Grill.

What were some of your takeaways?
Gates: John reminded us that despite the current global pandemic that hits hard locally, to be innovative. It’s our responsibility to do what it takes to save our business and keep our brand relevant. We are not the only ones going through it, but we are the only ones that can save Lil Greenhouse Grill. We received confirmation that our community philanthropy is never in vain and is very necessary in maintaining the fiber of the community. The kids are watching.

How does NBA fandom fit into your life, culture, and your business?
Gates: We are NBA fans. As a young person in 1989, Chef Karim would walk from Overtown to the [Miam] Arena to see the games. He paid only $3 at that time. [Former Heat center] Alonzo Mourning’s Overtown Youth Center is a haven for so many kids in our community, and we are happily housed next door. [Current Heat center] Udonis Haslem has a number of businesses in the area as well. We not only frequent as those businesses as patrons, but promote them, as we are proud to now be successful business peers.

Lil Greenhouse Grill has a neo-soul, hip-hop vibe that fits into the very fiber of Heat Nation! We are a favorite stop for home game ticket holders and proudly show the games as often as possible. We are Overtown. We are Miami. We are Heat Nation!

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