Last year’s national protests over racial injustice, especially the brutal killing of George Floyd, served as a call to action for veteran comedian Jon Laster.
Though he participated in protests near his home in Brooklyn last summer, Laster has always believed that simply marching would not bring lasting change. “George Floyd is me, so if you take away my comedy microphone, that could have been me on the ground, and no one would know the difference,” says Laster, who is approximately the same height, weight and skin tone as Floyd.
Wanting to improve conditions in the Black community, Laster – who studied economics and poverty in college – reached out to friends in the tech industry to begin creating the change he wanted to see. A little more than a year later, he officially launched Blapp.
Blapp is an e-commerce marketplace app that maps the locations of Black-owned businesses in numerous US cities and select cities around the world. Laster founded the app because he believes that driving economic spending power toward Black businesses is an effective means to permanently improve the plight of the Black community, and he wanted to make it easy for users like himself to find Black-owned businesses to support.
He got the idea in 2020 while traveling across the country for comedy tours. He wanted to patronize Black-owned businesses but had difficulty locating them.
On a recent trip to Houston, Laster used the app to discover an “outstanding” restaurant he might never have found, Lit Chicken. He wants to expose other users to amazing lesser-known spots in their city or a city they’re visiting.
How Blapp works
Through its web-scraping technology, the app provides a consolidated and current repository of information from across the internet. That information is conveniently organized into several filterable categories, making it a great tool to help travelers explore a city and shop locally. Here’s how you could spend a day navigating a city like New York – which has a wealth of Black-owned businesses – using Blapp as your guide.
A Blapp tour of the Big Apple
Begin your day in one of Queens’ most beloved coffee shops, Communitea, where you can try a comprehensive list of coffees and organic teas as well as scrumptious breakfast options like halloumi avocado toast.
In Brooklyn, visit the luxury shop founded by fashion designer Aurora James, Brother Vellies, which sells handcrafted, African-influenced fashion accessories and shoes. Other nearby Black-owned shops featured in the app are Only NY and Maurice Malone.
Stop for guiltless sweet treats at Happy Zoe Vegan Bakery, which offers many sweet and savory vegan options like crepes and pierogies.
Amarachi, in Brooklyn Heights, is one of Laster’s favorite restaurants in the city. It serves African Diasporic cuisine with intriguing menu items such as chicken and waffles, and jerk and jollof.
In Manhattan, there are several contemporary Black businesses to visit on the Lower East Side, including Omar’s Kitchen and Rum Bar, a nouveau Caribbean restaurant inspired by the founder’s Jamaican roots, and Paint ‘N Pour, the second location for owner, Tinesha Sharpe, who opened her first paint party destination in Harlem.
Head to the Chelsea neighborhood to peruse the exhibitions at Nicola Vassell Gallery, founded by renowned art dealer Nicola Vassell. The gallery, among the few in the country owned by a Black woman, opened this year and is committed to showcasing diverse perspectives and broadening the discourse between the history and future of art.
Two longstanding cultural icons in the city, Huemanbooks and Sylvia’s restaurant, are quintessential stops. Reinventing itself for the post-pandemic world, Huemanbooks has pivoted to pop-up shops and an expanding digital presence, while Sylvia’s continues to be a mainstay for homestyle cooking in Harlem and in households via food products sold under its namesake soul food brand.
Though many of the current business listings in the app feature brick-and-mortar stores, Blapp contains a growing number of online-only businesses. Laster plans to expand those listings and add content that includes podcasts, fitness classes, comedy shows, and other forms of entertainment. He also plans to make the app more travel-friendly by developing Blapp-inspired travel itineraries that feature local businesses in cities including Los Angeles and London.
Laster believes the app can become a household name and wants to make it part of users’ permanent decision-making and purchasing processes. He envisions a world in which users will “Blapp it” just as they currently “Google it.” Laster says his ultimate goal for businesses listed in Blapp is “to see their registers ring.”