The third annual Bay Area Black Restaurant Week (BRW) kicks off Friday, with over 50 restaurants across the region serving up special dishes and offering deals. The focus of the 2022 event is expansion, BRW’s organizers told Nosh, with a plan to clear a pathway for Black-owned businesses that may not have traditional brick and mortar locations. That means that this year, food trucks, dessert makers and pop up vendors will also be featured, in addition to the permanent restaurants that typically join in.
Black Restaurant Week began in 2016, when Falayn Ferrell, Warren Luckett and Derek Robinson launched a celebration of the flavors across the diaspora with a small number of restaurants in Houston. Since then, it’s expanded into a series of events at cities across the country that occur throughout the year, but its founders emphasize that dining out at Black-owned restaurants should be a year-round affair.
“This conversation is more than just during restaurant week,” Ferrell told Nosh. “We’re asking the community to support the restaurants more than just this week because in reality, we could do this big shebang and if you still don’t continue to support them two months from now, they could still close.”
To that end, BRW’s slogan for the year is “More Than a Week,” another reminder that restaurants are open year round, and that BRW is here to support culinary businesses for more than a week. It’s no secret that restaurants need support more than ever: the food service industry is still recovering from the financial effects of the pandemic, and citing statistics from the Independent Restaurant Coalition, Ferrell said that 278,304 American restaurants applied for over $72.2 billion in relief, but only 101,004 small businesses received relief funding.
Restaurants that participate in BRW can expect to see a bump in customers not only during the week but after all the festivities are done, Ferrell said. While there is a premium paid option for businesses that includes increased promotion on the BRW websites and marketing campaigns, restaurants can also register for Black Restaurant Week for free.
Another BRW effort is the Feed the Soul Foundation, which Luckett, Ferrell and Robinson founded in 2020 to provide financial sustainability in the culinary community. Its core programs include an Emergency Relief Fund to take care of equipment or broken window repair, as well as virtual webinars to learn from and interact with industry experts.
Finally, there’s a Restaurant Business Development grant program, a cohort for professional and financial sustainability support. The Business Development cohort is open to people who identify as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, formerly incarcerated, LGBTQIA+ and senior citizens.
“We’re here because we want to tell them [culinary businesses] that you’re not alone in this process,” said Karina Fernandez, Feed the Soul’s program manager. “Not only are you participating, we are giving you a national platform of marketing. We want to help you.”
The Restaurant Business Development cohort provides restaurant owners six months of consulting, a financial stipend and continuous training. In the East Bay, Oakland’s popular Trinidadian spot CocoBreeze Restaurant has joined the development program, along with 28 other culinary businesses across the country. Another participant is pop-up and catering business Yo Soy Ceviche, an Afro-Latina-owned destination at Oakland’s First Friday events for its homemade Perurvian fusion empanadas and succulent shrimp ceviche.
Yo Soy Ceviche owner Nory Michelle told Nosh that getting extra support for her business felt even more important to her after a backpacking trip to Peru. “They [in Peru] were really impressed to see that a woman owned a food business because you see most men in the kitchen still.”
That focus on diversity at BRW extends to the restaurant choices on offer at this year’s event. “I think when someone hears ‘Black Restaurant Week’ they assume that it’s going to be soul food,” Ferrell said. But while some excellent soul food spots are participating — for example, Oakland food truck Sistas Wings & Things is serving up a special chicken box for $10 — restaurants like Oakland Jamaican/Californian Kingston 11 are also in the mix, as is Grand Lake Italian restaurant Marzano. The variety of the restaurants on this year’s slate “really speaks to the diversity of the people and the diversity of our cuisine,” Ferrell said.
Some other items to check out this week include CocoBreeze’s Callaloo CooCoo (a trini vegetable dish), and its brown-stew fried red snapper with spicy sautéed vegetables and sunshine side salad with Chef Ann’s signature spicy pineapple dressing. Their BRW dessert special, white chocolate pineapple, is also a good pick. Meanwhile, Berkeley’s Cali Alley is offering a BRW special sandwich called the “Fat Cat,” a juicy chicken breast sandwich on brioche, that shouldn’t be missed. (A full list of participants is on the BRW site.)
Ferrell said that she expects the next ten days to be busy ones for local restaurants, but that’s a good thing. “Our campaign is only as strong as a community,” Ferrell said. “We actually love to see the stories where the restaurant owners are slammed. That means it worked.”