Photo: Jonathan Cooper

HotBox Next Level Kitchen, a downtown Concord eatery located inside Southern Strain Brewery, is one of 200 winners of Discover’s Eat It Forward program. The prize: $25,000.

The credit card company partnered with R&B singer Ciara to give $5 million to Black restaurant owners who have struggled mightily amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Local chef Michael Bowling — and sister/co-owner, Joy — will use the money to help recoup earnings and keep the restaurant afloat. He said they tried to offer take-out when Gov. Roy Cooper ordered restaurants and bars to stop dine-in service in March, but their clientele was not receptive to it. 

“I was losing more money trying to be open,” he said.

Business partners and siblings, Michael (left) and Joy (right) Bowling, received $25,000 from Discover’s Eat It Forward Program to help their restaurant, HotBox Next Level Kitchen, recoup financial losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Jonathan Cooper

Business picked up once Cooper proceeded with the state’s “Safer at Home” Phase 2. 

“It’s been good,” he said. “We are still down like 60% from where we were before Covid-19, but we are making enough money to pay the bills, which is better than some.”

Last month, Black Food Folks co-founder Clay Williams contacted Bowling to get his approval to post a social media nomination on the chef’s behalf. HotBox would be the first restaurant nominated by the fellowship whose mission is to uplift Black food professionals. 

Although Bowling hadn’t heard of the Discover program at that point, he campaigned through HotBox’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to gain support for one of the weekly $25,000 prizes. After two weeks, on Aug. 31, the siblings received an email notifying them that HotBox had won.

Bowling is putting the winnings toward debt accumulated during the pandemic and to employees who took pay cuts and fewer hours. Part of the money will also be donated to Heal Charlotte. The nonprofit recently launched a $10 million fundraising campaign to buy the Baymont Inn off of Sugar Creek Road to turn it into a transitional housing campus.

The public can nominate other Black-owned restaurants through Oct. 31. The final drawing is Nov. 2. Click here to see the program rules.

Jonathan is a former QCity Metro reporter who covered Charlotte neighborhoods north of uptown. He also reported on education, public safety and health.

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