Warren Luckett had an idea three years ago for culinary programming he’d never seen before—a Black restaurant week. So he started one. Luckett, the founder of Black Restaurant Week, gathered support to make his vision a reality, bringing on Derek Robinson, who handles all the marketing, and Falayn Ferrell, the day-to-day operations maven.
Now in its third year, what originally started as a way to amplify Black-owned restaurants in the metro Houston area has now grown to include stops in Oakland, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Dallas, and Los Angeles—all cities with strong presences of Black residents who’ve helped shape the food cultures in each state. The months-long series kicks off in Houston on April 14, where it runs for two weeks, as it does in each city, before moving on to Philly in early June. The last stop is Dallas in October.
The basic premise of Black Restaurant Week, no matter the city, is simple: two weeks of prix-fixe menus in Black-owned restaurants. Other events include bartending competitions, culinary showcases highlighting local chefs, and a food truck park with local vendors.
Part of the program’s goal is provide an easy pathway for residents to provide support to Black restaurateurs. Luckett hopes that hosting the restaurant week annually will offer consistency that locals can count on.
“A lot of times, our communities want to support these Black-owned restaurants, but they just don’t know how to or where to,” Luckett said. “At least having a two-week campaign every year coming to the market will always be an incubator or a springboard … to drive traffic.”
The work of amplifying Black-owned restaurants is crucial in an industry that often offers little support for long-term success for African-American chefs starting out in the industry, let alone those advancing to restaurant ownership. A joint Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA) and People Report found, per an industry diversity report in 2014, that although African-Americans represent 16 percent of hourly restaurant employees, they only composed a scant seven percent of managers. Of course, with such low numbers of Black chefs in restaurant leadership roles, microaggressions abound. Kwame Onwuachi, executive chef of Washington, D.C.’s Kith/Kin, muses about this when he details one of many instances where colleagues and superiors assumed he couldn’t be at the helm of his own restaurant.
The same institutional barriers facing Black restaurant workers attempting to grow their craft are the same ones that block aspiring Black restaurateurs: limited access to financial resources, such as funding or loans.
Tie that into the systemic racism that has always been reflected in dining and restaurant culture for Africans Americans—it was just a few decades ago that Jim Crow legislation prevented Black people from dining in most restaurants, for instance—and you have a mission with real relevance and resonance.
Luckett aims to highlight the food of the greater diaspora, from Africa to the Caribbean. He pinpointed Houston’s Restaurant Indigo as a prime example of the ingenuity and creativity of both Black chefs and restaurateurs.
“It’s all about the story of soul food … and the culture and the impact that is has within our community,” he said. “There’s so many different narratives. I’m really excited to be in a position to tell all these stories.”
Highlighting how integral Black farmers are to the country’s food systems, as well as important to the success of restaurants that African-Americans restaurateurs open in cities across the country, is another mission of Black Restaurant Week. Proceeds from Black Restaurant Week will benefit F.A.R.M.S., a nonprofit based in South Carolina geared towards the overall efficacy of Black farmers.