Danilo Batson never imagined he’d become the leader of a platform promoting Black-owned businesses. Based in Southern California, he’s a full-time software engineer who’s also had stints at nursing school and as a personal trainer. Through it all, making a difference has remained a guiding value.
“You always think about how you’re going to create impact,” Batson says. “But this kind of just found me.”
What he’s created, Spicy Green Book, is an online directory of Black-owned foodservice enterprises. Users can search hundreds of restaurants and other F&B businesses by location and cuisine. Although the website went live less than two years ago, it’s grown to encompass hundreds of restaurants across 30 states plus parts of Canada.
The project was inspired in part by Victor Green’s seminal guide, The Negro Motorist Green Book, which provided African-American travelers with resources to find safe accommodations, gas, and other services in the era of Jim Crow laws. Similarly, Spicy Green Book spotlights Black-owned businesses but with the intent of promoting those enterprises at the national level and building up the communities around them. It also provides marketing and creative services for these businesses free of charge.
FSR spoke with Baston to learn more about the directory and its impact.
What sparked the idea for Spicy Green Book?
We’ve been operating since June 2020. At the time, I didn’t know how to build websites, but I had a friend who was actually a software developer and asked him to build it. With COVID and the killing of George Floyd happening, I kept seeing everyone post screenshots and spreadsheets of Black-owned businesses and things like that. I was thinking that when you’re looking for somewhere to eat, you’re not going to go through a spreadsheet. So, we wanted to make it easier for people to find the Black-owned businesses and for those businesses to get the exposure they needed.
Why did you decide to pay homage to Victor Green’s motorist guide?
It’s just a nod to history. I was thinking of a name, and I texted my family and told them my idea. One of them was watching “Trigger Warning with Killer Mike” [a Netflix docuseries on activism], and he brought up The Negro Motorist Green Book. He said, ‘Man, I wish somebody would bring that back.’ That was so crazy that he was watching this right as I was thinking about a name for the business. I took it as divine intervention. I asked my family how to incorporate the name into that, and they said, add ‘spicy’ as a food thing.
How did COVID impact launching the website?
There are pros and cons. The pros would be that people weren’t working and wanted to volunteer time and contribute elsewhere. Hollywood was shut down, so a bunch of creatives wanted to keep their portfolios sharp and things like that. We ended up being able to reach people that we would never have reached before. On the downside, it did impact the restaurant business, so they were also in need of help.
What do you want Black restaurateurs to know about Spicy Green Book?
It’s important to me that Black business owners know other Black business owners and keep that resource going. If we can keep it in circulation, then we all get to collaborate, have events, and things like that. We had one live event with about 25 food trucks, and it was great to see all these business owners get to know each other and say, ‘When are we going to collaborate for the next event?’ Or, ‘The next time you’re doing something, we can get together and you bring your audience and I bring my audience.’ I was very happy to see that part of it.
It’s the network; I think we have that advantage. We offer exposure and creative services, but it’s really about getting a network and getting to know people in whatever industry you’re in. Networking, in general, is a full-time job. And it’s a hard thing to do, so you are lucky for every contact you ever get. Through Spicy Green Book, I’ve seen businesses who come to our events benefiting from those leads and other great opportunities that they wouldn’t have had before.
When you look to the future, what are your hopes for the directory?
I hope that we continue to drive exposure and collaborate with other business owners. I hope that as we start pursuing more events, they happen on a regular basis in more than just Southern California. When you talk about being intentional, it’s hard to think of that every day. It’s like, ‘I’d rather just go on Amazon or go to Target because it’s easier than going to a small business.’ But if there was an event happening once a month in your area that you know has the businesses you want to support, it’s a lot easier to show up there and say, ‘I know all these businesses are Black-owned, and this is where I want to be intentional and spend my money. I can actually come here once a month and contribute to the causes I believe in.’
How can supporting these Black businesses lead to widespread change?
Seeing business owners who look like you is a huge thing. The kids seeing all these business owners are like, ‘Oh, I can also do that.’ Oftentimes you think you are pigeonholed to only a certain career prospect. More representation is really what everyone’s trying to fight for.