By Steven Barboza
Within approximately a decade, China has accelerated its urban infrastructure development by creating futuristic skyscrapers and sleek, high-speed trains, resulting in the belief by many that the country has surpassed the United States in economic dominance. In fact, nearly half of Americans (47 percent) think China is the world’s leading economic power, according to a Pew survey.
It’s no surprise then that African Americans have begun to head East in search of entrepreneurial and employment opportunities. After all, the unemployment rate for blacks in the U.S. is 15.8 percent, nearly twice the rate of whites at 8.6 percent. China may have billions of people, but its unemployment rate is only 4 percent, and the demands of modernization can equate to employment if you’ve got the talent needed and the courage to make the move.
“In 2005, [my husband and I] had an opportunity to come to China via a family friend who lived here for many years, and [our friend] asked if we’d like to open a new restaurant,” said Antoinette Martin, a former food writer and New York City restaurant manager. “I thought it would be a great opportunity.”
Martin is among a growing number of African Americans seeking a new beginning in the bustling cities of Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen, where American brands such as Coca-Cola, Starbucks and KFC are popular and many Chinese want to practice their English on newcomers.
Martin and her husband, Taal, a former wine merchant from New York’s Upper West Side, arrived in Beijing five years ago this month. Today, they are partners in a well-known restaurant chain featuring Western cuisine. Their company, Global Cuisine Beijing, owns and operates three popular restaurants: the American Cafe, the Mexican Kitchen and Little Italy.
The restaurants, frequented by both Chinese and foreign diners, are relatively unique, even in one of the world’s largest cities. The American Cafe is located in the heart of Beijing, an area known as Central Business District. The other two are in a leafy suburb called Shunyi. Together, the restaurants serve nearly 300 dinners at a time and have gotten good reviews.