When the pandemic first hit and businesses were shuttered, high school students in the Greenburgh area began to notice that the lockdown hit local businesses especially hard.
Some of their favorite coffee shops, bakeries and grocery stores were either closed or on the brink of closing.
“I wanted to do something to prevent others from losing their favorite local businesses,” said Gerald Wang, a rising senior at Edgemont High School.
Then a news posting came from Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, seeking creative, hard-working and goal-oriented high school students to help small businesses in the area with post-pandemic recovery.
Wang and more than 100 other students in the region applied to be part of the Post Pandemic Task Force, a three-month pilot project run by the Zuckerberg Institute where students would work closely with local businesses and learn directly from Silicon Valley executives and industry experts.
The 14 chosen students were divided into two groups and paired with a local business that needed support. Students would come up with innovative solutions to support small business owners whose stores had been substantially disrupted by COVID-19.
Gerald Wang, Michael Roehrl, a rising senior at Edgemont High School; Rachel Vardi, a rising junior at Edgemont High School; Parker Press, a rising senior at Edgemont High School; Amber Carr, a rising senior at Dwight-Englewood High School; Ilan Luciano, a rising freshman at Pelham Memorial High School; and Arush Mishra, a rising junior at Middlesex County Academy for STEM formed one group and were paired with Golden Krust, a Caribbean restaurant in White Plains.
Charmaine Golding, the owner of Golden Krust in White Plains, has had the business since 2005. Golding was balancing running the restaurant while also working full-time in information security and information technology for an Italian bank.
In 2019, the bank Golding worked for closed its international branches, and she decided to focus solely on her business. Shortly after, the pandemic hit.
Before the pandemic, Golding’s restaurant was not on third-party delivery apps like Uber Eats, DoorDash, Grubhub or Seamless. But during the pandemic when take-out was the primary means for restaurants to make ends meet, Golding realized she had to use the services.
Golding said there was a 20 percent increase in sales from third-party vendors alone.
“When you don’t have the foot traffic, it does help for the bottom line,” Golding said.
Golding also wanted to beef up Golden Krust’s advertising to make more people know about the restaurant.
“We serve a niche, which is Caribbean cuisine, specifically more Jamiacian-based, and [Golden Krust] has been there for years, but it wasn’t known,” Golding said.
When a student from the Post Pandemic Task Force reached out, Golding saw an opportunity to expand Golden Krust’s reach and increase patronage.
“When one of the kids in this program came to me, I was glad because I know young people have familiarity with social media and they can guide me to get even more exposure there,” Golding said.
Students from the Task Force came up with various ideas to help support Golden Krust.
“Some idea we have are going to food festivals or events where we can hand out samples and spread the message of what Golden Krust is and where it is,” Roehrl said.
Roehrl said they also plan on using Nextdoor and expanding Golden Krust’s Instagram page. They have also been making fliers to hang up in highly trafficked areas like Scarsdale Village.
The group also wants to partner with school clubs and other programs to help get the word out about Golden Krust and its food. Golden Krust serves traditional Caribbean dishes like braised oxtail, Jamaican patties, curried goat, broth-stewed chicken, curry chicken, roti, soups, breakfast, fresh juices and more. “For the food festivals, I think the finger food like the jerk chicken, the wings, the patties, those things will attract people to come and try and see the other stuff we have,” Golding said.
Golding hopes participating in local food festivals will increase Golden Krust’s visibility and broaden its clientele. Currently, the Task Force is scouting events for the spring.
“I’m trying to get [Golden Krust] into mainstream America,” Golding said. “My clients tend to be more Caribbean because they know [the food].”
“Anyone can tell you if you go to a restaurant and ethic people are there, that means it’s good because they know what’s good,” Golding said.
In addition to giving high schoolers the opportunity to help support local businesses, the Post Pandemic Task Force also helped participants gain invaluable skills such as time management, effective communication in a business setting and marketing fundamentals.
“Even though the primary goal of our program was to help Golden Krust, we also went over a lot of self-improvement lessons that really stuck with us after the program ended,” Mishra said.
In addition to the Task Force’s weekly class on Zoom, the students also participated in town halls where business leaders from a variety of sectors shared their experience and expertise.
“We informed them about our progress, and they provided some hands-on feedback right in the moment,” Mishra said. “That was another really cool aspect of the program.”
Although the program, which ran from June through August, has wrapped up, the group will still continue to work with Golden Krust, offering their support and ideas.
“On a larger scale, we’ve recognized that much of a community’s diversity is not only affected by the diversity of its people but also its diversity in businesses,” Wang said. “Our local businesses make our towns and communities unique.”