NYC is not only where cultures and cuisines from all over the world meet but also where ideas from business leaders converge. Such is the case for the collaboration between tech CEOs Lawrence Phillips of Green Book Global, Anthony Edwards of EatOkra and Marvin Johnson of Dashible. In honor of Black Business Month (August), the trio kicked off a campaign paying homage to Black-owned restaurants in Harlem, the neighborhood in which they have cultivated community and formed a brotherhood. During the Harlem campaign, which extends beyond Black Business Month, each app will highlight the chosen restaurants on harlembbm.eatokra.com and also within their respective sites and social media pages.
Green Book Global—according to its founder, “the first travel review site dedicated to helping Black travelers explore the world safely”—is inspired by the guidebook that helped Black drivers to avoid potentially dangerous towns while traveling throughout the US during the civil rights era. Phillips was inspired to create it during his yearlong trip around the world, which covered 30 countries. While Green Book Global is mainly driven by user reviews and ratings, it also features incentives for members where they can earn cash for leaving reviews and booking trips through partners on their site. They also offer a discovery tool that allows visitors to filter destinations based on traveling while Black scores, travel style (foodie, history buff and the like), lodging preferences and other options.
Originally from Boston, Phillips came to NYC for love. Harlem is the place where he and his wife started a family and cultivated a community. On the decision of why he chose the area to live and to start this campaign, he says, “When I moved to New York, I was like, I’ve got to live in Harlem. [It’s] the mecca of Black culture...and where you should start if you’re really [trying to] talk about Black enterprise [and] Black entrepreneurship…Harlem [is] just a very special place.” The love of the people, the food and the businesses that he has connected with in his time there are why he chose to spotlight the featured restaurants, which represent diverse flavors, cultures and dining experiences in the historic neighborhood.
Harlem’s history is also one of the reasons that Anthony Edwards of EatOkra was drawn to the area for this project. An Army veteran from upstate New York, he originally moved to NYC to attend Fordham University. After completing a degree in computer science, Edwards began a career in software development. Prior to building EatOkra with the help of his wife and co-founder, Janique, in 2016, Edwards had never developed an app. It went from a passion project to a business in 2020, when it gained nearly 150,000 downloads in a month’s time; he cites word of mouth and community sharing for its success and popularity (the app connects more than 300,000 consumers to Black-owned restaurants).
Edwards wants it to be an example to prospective creators that “you can build over time. It doesn’t have to be this traditional investor model, raising funds to even get started. If you’re passionate about it, you can do it at this early stage until you’ve built that traction, built that trust, [and have built] a network so you can get the funding to move forward.”
Dashible, which founder and CEO Marvin Johnson describes as “a super app for local businesses [and] a platform to help [them] grow and increase foot traffic to their locations,” is Johnson’s latest tech venture. Inspired by the frustrations of some of his business-owner friends using a popular savings platform, Johnson created Dashible to allow businesses to benefit and grow as potential customers discover them and save.
Having prior experience as a tech founder, including of Ikobo, a fintech company that he later sold, Johnson serves as a mentor and advisor to up-and-coming entrepreneurs, though it’s not necessarily how he might characterize his role. The Navy veteran from Florida moved to NYC in 2010 for work, and the City’s diversity, opportunity and warm reception have kept him here. He says, “When you hear the name Harlem, you get a certain vision, and it’s typically a positive vision about Black people.”
Johnson, Edwards and Phillips agree that the collaboration is special because it shows Black businesses working well together. The three founders credit The Gentleman’s Factory, a company focused on bringing Black entrepreneurs together, for their initial meeting. As Johnson explains, “I think this collaboration and the Gentlemen’s Factory in general…we just do things to try to help each other out. Not like, You give me this, I give you that. It’s more like, Let’s work together to try to help each other grow and prosper…I think we generally need to do more things like this in the Black community. Supporting each other—I think it’s important.”
These Harlem restaurants are featured in the campaign:
67 Orange Street
2082 Frederick Douglass Blvd.
Cozy lounge for cocktails and small plates
2149 Frederick Douglass Blvd.
Soul food restaurant with traditional fare and relaxed vibes
101 Edgecombe Ave.
British- and Jamaican-style brunch and dinner
109 Malcolm X Blvd.
Fast-casual eatery serving rice bowls, sides and ice cream
2620 Frederick Douglass Blvd., New York, NY 10030
Vintage-style coffeeshop dishing up light fare