OXON HILL, Md. — Experiencing the sweet taste of success isn't too much of a stretch at The Furlough Cheesecake.
"The world is reopening," said Jaqi Thompson, who along with her sister, Nikki Thomspon Howard, owns the cheesecake shop.
The Thompson sisters know a thing or two about navigating the choppy waters of small business ownership.
"I think that that was a blessing and that helped propel us to keep on moving," Nikki Thompson Howard said.
We first met the duo when they started The Furlough Cheesecake, which was initially born when the two former government employees found themselves furloughed during the government shutdown several years ago.
"Sometimes I still wake up and say, ‘What am I doing?,’” Jaqi said. “Honestly, being career government workers, you know, you can be programmed into doing a certain routine all the time."
Yet, they took a risk and started their small business first online, only to then face the pandemic right as they opened their first storefront at National Harbor in Maryland.
"We started during adversity,” Nikki said.” We came through the pandemic."
They managed to stay open throughout, but not everyone did.
In 2020, at the start of the pandemic, 41% of Black-owned businesses in the U.S. closed either temporarily or permanently, according to researchers at UC Santa Cruz.
Now, they say that's changing with Black-owned businesses experiencing the strongest rebound compared to those of other racial or ethnic groups. The number of Black-owned businesses in the U.S. is up 38%, while for Hispanics, it is up 15%. Businesses owned by Asians are down 2% and those owned by whites are down 3%.
"Over the life existence of Blacks in America, we've demonstrated great resolve, notwithstanding the turmoil and the ongoing headwinds that we encounter," said John Harmon, who heads up the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, part of a network of national Black Chambers of Commerce.
Researchers say what helped make a difference is the support Black small business owners experienced with so-called "Buy Black Owned" grassroots efforts.
"Blacks rallied together, leveraged their $1.4 trillion spend, that we spend annually, and in 2024 is projected by Nielsen to be $1.8 trillion,” Harmon said. “So, what it demonstrated is that, when we have to, we can unite and when we get laser-focus our excellence is exemplified."
Back at The Furlough Cheesecake, the Thompson sisters said they experienced that support first-hand.
"Our family and friends - when we say it's a community effort, it is really a community effort," Nikki said.
Something they have worked through with their trademark humor and wisdom.
"But we bounce back!" Nikki said.
"Like a rubber band," Jaqi added, "but that hurts sometimes when you bounce back."
"It does," Nikki agreed.
“Because it smacks!" they said together.
"We have learned how to weather the storm," Nikki said.
Now, they and other small business owners are looking forward to clearer skies ahead.