Peter Jurkin’s dream to open an ice cream shop had become a reality in March with the opening of Yummy’s Ice Cream & Mini Donuts in McAllen.
But as luck would have it, just one day after he opened, he had to close down because of the coronavirus.
“It took me a month working on it,” Jurkin said of the repairs and other preparations he had to do before opening day. “It was just heartbreaking, I just opened and basically I had to close.”
The closure risked being permanent, Jurkin said; having to pay rent and utilities with money that wasn’t coming in.
But after about a month, Yummy’s opened back up about four weeks ago and, while the shop’s survival was in question just a few months prior, lines of customers that lead out of the shop are common these days.
Those long lines of patrons started forming about a week ago, around the time that local residents started promoting black-owned local businesses on social media as demonstrations in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement continued across the country.
“The line started when people started sharing it and sharing it (on social media), and I was working by myself and then one day I look up and the line was all the way outside,” said the 27-year-old Jurkin.
Within a few days of those posts, Jurkin had sold out — three bags of donut mix that usually lasted a week ran out in two days — so he had to close for three days to re-stock.
He had also been working by himself which made handling a long line tough, so when he returned from the three-day hiatus, he had hired more people to help the line move faster.
Among the other local businesses that were being promoted on social media was Le Pho House.
While the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic threatened Jurkin’s shop, it had the opposite effect for the Le family in Weslaco because it was, instead, the impetus for their new business through which they sell homemade Vietnamese cuisine.
Pam Le, who just turned 30 earlier this month, was living alone in Dallas when the city shut down because of the pandemic.
The lease on her apartment was nearing its end, she said, so she decided to return home to Weslaco to be with her family.
Since she and her siblings were kids, they would invite friends and family to come over when their mom would make pho every other week.
Sitting around the dining room table a few months ago, enjoying their mom’s pho once again, they pitched her the idea of actually selling it.
“We were all sitting at the dining table, talking about goals and what we want to do and our future and my mom, she was so depressed because her salon had been closed for about close to two months,” Le said.
There was no coming in at the time and they also wanted something to do.
“We were all super sad, cleaning up the house and there’s only so much cleaning you can do,” she said.
So they took a nine-hour road trip up to Dallas to pack up her belongings from her apartment, but also to pick up supplies from Asian markets that aren’t found in the Rio Grande Valley.
Le said they bought enough for about a week or two worth of food and, when they came home, posted something online to see if anyone was interested in buying food from them.
“Next thing you know, our DMs were just blowing up,” Le said, adding they sold out on the second day.
They’ve since re-stocked their supplies but a friend tagged them on one of the social media posts that promoted black-owned business and demand shot up.
“I would say 15 to 20%, it did help out a lot,” Le said.
“We probably got, between Facebook and Instagram, we got about 250-300 followers within two days,” she said. “It was just so exciting and people are willing to drive from Brownsville, Los Fresnos, Mission to Weslaco to pick up their orders.”
Jurkin said he hopes the community continues to support local businesses because that support is vital to their survival.
He said the community helped each other in different ways and, with that in mind, he hopes to start a basketball camp for kids when the dangers of the coronavirus lessen.
Basketball is a big part of his life, he said.
He played in high school, college and overseas, but it also played a role in his coming to the U.S. from South Sudan when he was 14 years old.
The host family that took him in when he arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina was none other than NBA legend Muggsy Bogues and his wife, Kim Bogues whom Jurkin said he refers to as “mom.”
“She inspired me (to open) this shop because she’s the one who taught me every single thing about donuts,” Jurkin said. “They’re going to come and visit hopefully soon when everything slows down with the virus.”
As to the sudden surge in support of businesses owned by black people, Jurkin said he viewed it as a good thing but at the same time, he said it was sad to see people of his color targeted.
“It’s just not me but anybody that gets stopped by police,” he said. “You’re thinking twice, well, what’s next? You might make it, you might not.”
In his opinion, the police in the Rio Grande Valley were very friendly, he said, but the police are different everywhere.
“I went to school in Tennessee and they’re different, and also in Charlotte, they’re very different,” he said.
“Wherever you go, the police are always … they are different, and just the way you talk to them is … it’s like doing an interview, you have to be careful,” Jurkin said. “You have to be careful because you don’t know who’s behind that uniform.”
Though grateful for the support Le Pho House has received, Le admitted to feeling conflicted that it comes amid more turmoil within the black community.
“It didn’t feel right, honestly, in my heart, for them to reach out,” she said. “There’s so many other people you can reach out to and there’s so many donations that you can make; there’s just so many other ways to do it and the fact that they were reaching out to us and supporting us is … wow.”
“It didn’t feel right but it feels good at the same time,” she said.
Adding to those conflicting feelings is her family’s racial background, she said, noting they’re not 100% black.
Their father is black and Vietnamese and their mother is white and Vietnamese.
“Yes, we’ve dealt with racism and all kinds of bad stuff when it comes to our race,” she said. “’Oh, you’re not black enough or you’re not white enough, you’re not Asian enough, what are you?'”
A lot of that teasing happened in middle school and high school but she hasn’t dealt with that lately, Le said.
Seeing what’s going on around the world, Le said she and family often argue about it and go to bed in tears.
She said they sometimes find themselves wanting to put their phones away and turn off the TV for the sake of their mental health but then they remind themselves of the significance of what is happening and the need to pay attention.
“It’s important to talk about this,” Le said. “People have been quiet about it for so long and now, honestly, I think it’s great. I think it’s a great thing that people are getting together, supporting one another.”
“Black lives do matter,” she said. “Not only do they matter but they’re valuable.”