On Tuesday, as Houstonians prepared to march in memory of George Floyd, a Third Ward native who died last week in police custody after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, people across the world were posting solid black images on their social media accounts.
The posts were marking Blackout Tuesday, an effort organized by two black women in the music industry, Atlantic Records Senior Director of Marketing Jamila Thomas and Platoon Records Senior Artist Campaign Manager Brianna Agyemang. The goal was to disrupt the daily routine—including what’s seen and heard on music listening platforms and on social media feeds—and call attention to the social injustice felt by members of the black community.
This effort extended beyond music and entered other industries, including hospitality. People behind restaurants and bars across Houston used their platforms to post solid black images in solidarity. Some included words to explain their demonstration, and some of those words were more direct than others.
“For many of us in hospitality, we’ve been told never to mix business with personal values,” Nobie's co-owner Sara Stayer wrote in a social media post for the Montrose restaurant. “But f*** that.”
The post, which was shared on both Instagram and Facebook, explained the restaurant would be closed that day so employees could join the march and protest. It ended with the phrase, “Black Lives Matter.”
“I think it’s really easy in the industry to leave things at home,” Stayer says. “When you’re fighting something like this, you have to make a stand.”
But people have been reaching out. The response to Stayer's post was mostly positive, and since then Houstonians have been making a point to support Nobie's and other black-owned restaurants. Black and African American restaurateurs say seeing these efforts to march, and to generally show they are behind the black community in Houston in the past few days has been particularly heartening.
“I have my white friends and non-black friends out there protesting, and I love that. I love that,” says Kavachi Ukegbu, who runs food consultant service Grubido and whose family owns Safari Restaurant, a popular Nigerian establishment off Bissonnet near Beltway 8. “It’s a different feeling just to see other people be finally fully aware of what’s going on.”
Chris Williams, owner and executive chef at Lucille's, says he was heartened to see Houstonians march for Floyd and protest peacefully Tuesday. Then came dinner: Williams wasn't at his place for the dinner service on Tuesday night.
"I left my phone at my car, so I go out at 10 p.m. and grab my phone, and my staff had been texting like, 'It's crazy at the restaurant!'" he says. "It made me so incredibly proud of this city that people are still breaking bread at my restaurant, which is unapologetically black. People have been going out of their way to show support, coming from Katy and all other types of places just to get a small order and give a $100 tip to the team."
The key, though, is that Houstonians continue to provide their support—and their business—to these Houston restaurants in the days and weeks to come beyond this initial movement, through dining and, when possible, through more decided actions. A lot of Houston restaurants are still struggling from the financial hit caused by the coronavirus shutdown that has kept people from dining out for much of the spring. Stayer says that she would like to be making donations to fight against racism herself, but her restaurant is still struggling due to the COVID-19 dining restrictions that have been in place since March. Thus, one of the best ways to support black-owned restaurants right now is to get your meals from them, whether you opt for dine-in or takeout.
Also, restaurant owners and operators hope to see new customers at black-owned establishments for takeout, delivery, or safe dine-in service. But then, they hope they return, tell their friends, and share their experiences.
"They're being introduced to black businesses where, in the past, they weren't on their radar," says Williams of non-black customers. "They're going out, and they'll feel like they're doing their part to experience it, and hopefully they come back and do it again."
Ukegbu hopes people put Lucille's atop their list.
“Chris (Williams) is a true advocate of Africanism,” says Ukegbu. Stayer agrees, shouting out Williams' yardbird, or slow-fried chicken, as her favorite dinner at the restaurant.
Ukegbu also recommends Chez Michelle, which offers Cameroonian fare like ndole–bitter spinach, nuts, and protein soup–plus the smokiest jollof rice in Houston, and charcoal-grilled drum and tilapia. She also likes Sno Dreamz, a New Orleans-style snow ice stand with a deep roster of flavors, and Jolly Jolly Bakery, whose handmade soft and sweet breads are quite popular.
“People just eat the bread by itself,” she says.
Keep those recommendations in mind if you're hoping to visit a black-owned restaurant in the Houston area. Here are a few more recommendations—some of our favorite places:
This jewel of an Ethiopian restaurant in the Upper Kirby area offers an array of traditional lamb, beef, chicken, and fish dishes, all served with thin and spongey injera. Your best bet is to combine a variety of proteins and vegetables for a family-style meal. Try the yefisik beyayinetu that includes doro wat (chicken cooked in berbere sauce) and alicha minchetabish (beef in spices) with string beans and salad. After, be sure to order the coffee ceremony for two, in which strong coffee is brought to the table with a hot jebena, a kind of clay pot; incense; and popcorn. Add water as you taste to smooth out the experience, and stay for as long as you'd like.
Whether chowing down on salty fried chicken over waffles, the famous "katfish" and grits, or a deliciously eggy omelet (we like the decadent three cheese with American, Swiss, and cheddar), you can't go wrong at Marcus Davis's busy morning and afternoon hang. Just be sure to arrive early ... those lines get long.
A return to the Houston dining scene for chef Mark Holley, Davis Street at Hermann Park combines the chef's affinity for awesome seafood dishes with a few surprises. Try the muddled stew of pork belly, redfish, clams, Gulf shrimp, and grits in a tomato-saffron broth, as well as the intensely delicious harissa-dusted Cornish hen. Always begin your meal with Holley's famous Parker House rolls.
Loaded potato goodness it the name of the game at this small outpost that has moved from the University of Houston area to 5740 S Wayside Dr in Southeast Houston. The Big Tex is a bold barbecue-flavored delight with chopped brisket, and the Alfredo fries are delightfully rich. When available, the boudin egg rolls are very worth it.
Marcus Davis opened this massive lunch and dinner spot in 2018, giving chef Dawn Burrell a chance to shine. Here she interprets cuisine that originated primarily in West Africa and came to the American South via the Atlantic slave trade. Her johnny cakes and shrimp and grits are out of this world, while the yams couldn't be sweeter and creamier.
You won't believe how good vegan comfort food can be after ordering from this window in the Third Ward. Try the Cajun pasta melt featuring a tomato-based sauce and cashew almond cheese sauce, and the stacked hard-fried mushroom po'boy is good for two lunches.
As its name implies, this down-home, super-friendly spot is the place for suya. Here, Patricia Nyan of northern Nigeria marinates skewers of tender beef, chicken, gizzards, and shrimp with her homemade “red sauce.” She won’t tell you exactly what’s in it, but just know there’s peanut and plenty of chiles to offer bold, lingering heat. Add some jollof and plantains, then finish your meal with masa—pan-fried fermented rice cakes—often eaten with suya or peanut soup.
Chef Don Bowie set out to make chicken and waffles an everyday item, and he's so far succeeded at this brunch-all-the-time Midtown hang with a sunny and attractive patio. Our favorite is the Nashville hot chicken and waffles, where the fire of the poultry is offset just right by its soft, sugary bed and a good dose of sweet syrup. Pro tip: Get the incredible collard greens swimming with in juices with smoked turkey.