Restaurant week highlights black-owned businesses through discounts, discussions

Media Credit: Graeme Sloan | Contributing Photo Editor

Calabash Tea and Cafe offers several vegan and vegetarian pies.

You may eat at the dozens of black-owned restaurants around the D.C. area, but there’s now a week that puts these storefronts in the spotlight.

DMV Black Restaurant Week begins its first run Sunday and touts events like cocktail competitions and talks with local chefs and bartenders, along with discounts at 20 restaurants in the District. The week culminates in a food and beverage education conference for consumers and aspiring restaurateurs.

Erinn Tucker, a professor at Georgetown University and one of the curators of DMV Black Restaurant Week, said she was prompted to start the event after reading about the lack of black chefs in the culinary industry.

“Obviously there’s not a platform for them to showcase their talents,” Tucker said. “There’s so much talent here in the DMV, why are we continuously asking that question? That got us sparked on how we could put together a platform.”

She said there were once more black-owned restaurants, but D.C.’s escalating cost of living caused a lull in black people who own their own restaurants. Many have found ways to stick around and within the past three to five years, the scene has revived, but mostly includes restaurant groups or stores that began outside the District in Maryland and Virginia.

“When you look at the restaurant industry, it’s changed so tremendously and a lot of small businesses sometimes have a tough time in order to stay current and abreast,” she said.

Tucker said she began the process of planning the restaurant week in May and June with two partners by asking D.C. residents to name their favorite black-owned restaurants through social media posts. The responses informed the list of 20 food and beverage spots offering deals during DMV Black Restaurant Week.

Graeme Sloan | Contributing Photo Editor

Calabash Tea and Cafe is one of the spots offering 15 percent off its goods for the first DMV Black Restaurant Week.

The 20 participating restaurants range from casual options to formal sit-down spots.

U Street staple Ben’s Chili Bowl and casual Calabash Tea and Cafe are some of the spots offering 15 percent off their goods for the entire week with a mention of DMV Black Restaurant Week. Other vendors, like neighboring restaurants Po Boy Jim and Appioo on Ninth Street, are offering prix fixe menus.

DMV Black Restaurant Week will also host an array of signature events at different locations throughout D.C. Local bartenders will prove themselves at a cocktail competition at Service Bar on U Street. Attendees can also learn from D.C. restaurant experts through a three-day series of “Cocktails and Conversations” at locales like Unconventional Diner on Wednesday.

The Thursday panel, “SheChef Inc. In Conversation,” features chef Elle Simone Scott, who switched out her corporate job to join culinary school, along with chefs Cat Smith and Nicole A. Mooney as they discuss the gender and race gap in the culinary industry. The event ($45) takes place at The Wing Georgetown at 1056 Thomas Jefferson St. NW starting at 5:30 p.m.

To wrap up the weeklong event, an all-day conference focused on how to combat the struggles of sustaining a black-owned business will take place at the University of the District of Columbia from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“It is doable, it is possible,” Tucker said. “I feel like a lot of people feel like they’re not a part of the changes that are happening in D.C., sometimes you can feel isolated in your own city. The reality is there is space, there are resources through the city that are available.”

Several participating restaurant owners, like Rebecca Antoine, a partner at Po Boy Jim, said the week shines a light on an underrepresented group of business owners and individuals.

“I don’t think a lot of people know what businesses are black-owned,” Antoine said. “Most of us don’t really put ourselves out there like that.”

Sunyatta Amen, the owner of Calabash Tea and Cafe, said the week’s premise and mission statement attracted her to joining on.

“We’re a restaurant that always asks, ‘How can we heal you,’ when people walk in the door,” Amen said. “Our goal is to create community and heal, and I think that’s also a lot of what Black Restaurant Week is doing.”

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