By Michelle Hollinger
MIAMI, Fla. – Starex Smith is known to hundreds of thousands of followers nationwide as The Hungry Black Man, a brand born of his love of good food, the Black eateries that serve it and his insatiable desire to tell everyone about his dining experiences. The online blog regularly presents Smith’s lively reviews of Black owned restaurants from across the country that enjoy a corresponding uptick in their business after his posts reach his loyal audience, whose allegiance to supporting Black-owned businesses rivals his own.
“We just left a pop-up BBQ spot by Chef Raheem on Sunday. I warned him, our audience is very engaged. They’re incredibly laser focused on the food and when we leave, these people are going to buy you out,” Smith said of the outcome that unfolded just as he predicted. “They bought everything.”
Smith is predicting the same level of engagement with his newest venture, My Black Pantry, a platform that’s an aggregator of culinary products. When it launches on Sept. 4, the website will provide easy access to more than 2000 Black-owned culinary products from hundreds of merchants from around the country.
The increased traffic at the restaurants he reviews is exactly what Smith wants. “That’s something we love to see. We truly feel that the Hungry Black Man nation is going to come out strong,” with its support of My Black Pantry, a dream come true for the Miami-based bachelor.
“Black companies have a very difficult time getting into major stores like Costco, Winn Dixie and Publix and the supplier staff that works with these companies, unfortunately do not give Black companies the time of day unless they’ve created some major hype on a show or have insider knowledge of folks that may be stakeholders of the company,” Smith explained about the need for My Black Pantry. “We just don’t have social capital that other groups have with getting into stores.”
He was also disappointed to discover that many of the Black-owned restaurants he visited across the country were using products from mainstream companies that are “some of the most racist and unfriendly brands” available.
“I wanted to offer an alternative to that, not just to Black people, but also to white people and non-blacks who may not have known that Black America has such amazing products and that can enrich their lives,” he said.
My Black Pantry provides an entry point for consumers to “discover the amazingness behind Black owned brands.” Smith is adamant about providing consumers options to some of the most popular brands Blacks typically use, like Lawry’s seasoning salts, Badia complete seasoning, Crystal’s hot sauce and lemon pepper seasoning by McCormicks. “There are comparable and even superior products to these products.”
As he and his team conducted research to discover the products, they were pleasantly surprised to discover the vast array of merchandise being manufactured by Black people. He was astounded at the number of Black-owned vineyards. “There are so many of them you can open a store and just sell black owned wine and spirits,” said Smith, who is also vice president of Strategy and Development for Black Tech Week and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Public Administration.
“There are medicinal products, vegan offerings, multi-vitamins. You can get a farm to freezer fresh rib eye from a farmer in Texas to an ahi tuna from a Black marine biologist turned fisherman in Honolulu,” Smith shared about his team’s discoveries, which includes Black farmers providing fresh produce delivered to consumers’ doorsteps via monthly subscription boxes.
The site makes it possible for customers to shop for a multitude of items without leaving their homes, significant with the lingering presence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Smith’s two nephews, Jonathan and Jason Foster, 19 and 20, respectively, work with him as a part of The Hungry Black Man Media and spent months manually vetting companies and uploading those that passed the test to the site.
Black merchants’ can currently include their culinary products on the site free of charge; however, Smith envisions the site offering a membership service that provides tremendous benefits to not only increase its members’ sales, but also enhance their infrastructure and help them gain access to the larger stores that can significantly increase their bottom line.
“We noticed a number of individuals with website and ecommerce challenges, so we will offer access to programmers and engineers and business developers and monthly sessions with supplier diversity leaders in the major fortunate 400 and 500 companies,” Smith explained. “So membership will include not only having their product up, but also a video chat session with supplier support persons from Walmart, Target, Winn Dixie, Publix and Kroger.”
Ultimately, My Black Pantry is an opportunity for consumers to “respect and support Black businesses on the level that we do mainstream businesses.” Check the site out on 9/7/2020 for its official launch!
For more information and to subscribe, visit MyBlackPantry.com.