The Independent Restaurant Coalition reported that 500,000 restaurants and bars have lost revenue and increased in debt over the past 22 months. And, the harsh realities of an economy affected by a global pandemic, combined with systemic racism, leave Black-owned restaurants at a disadvantage. In an effort to remedy these barriers, Warren Luckett, Falayn Ferrell and Derek Robinson founded Black Restaurant Week in 2016 to create a community to promote the culinary expertise of Black chefs in Houston.
Originally, it was a one-city food experience in Houston, but the founders have expanded nationwide, furthering their mission of highlighting African American, African and Caribbean restaurants on a larger scale.
“When we started in 2016, we only had 20 restaurants,” Ferrell says. “Since then, we’ve expanded our model to be more of a regional campaign; so we’re featuring businesses all the way out to Beaumont now.”
This year’s celebration kicks off Friday, April 1, and runs through April 10. It will be the biggest food festival yet, with several companies joining the BRW directory. Restaurants such as Kale Me Crazy, Grisby’s Gras, Fainmous BBQ and Flava Wings will participate.
Robinson says a big success of the brand’s vision is being able to expand palettes for all Houstonians.
“Throughout this journey of Black Restaurant Week, we’re seeing across the country so much diversity and so many different cuisines, and it’s beautiful. When you go to the West Coast, you’ll see so much veganism, and it's amazing to be able to kind of bring that back into the other side of the country,” Robinson says.
Aside from amplifying Black-owned restaurants and their tasty foods, BRW is doubly important because it provides much-needed advertisement, support and resources for Black-owned culinary businesses that may not receive respect otherwise.
“Firstly, we’re building awareness for small businesses. Whether it's a pandemic or not, most restaurants have a very slim profit margin,” Ferrell tells Houstonia. “Secondly, (it’s) providing business opportunities in spaces that have been left out when you think of food.”
In 2021, BRW was able to support 1,200 businesses, generating an average of a 15% sales increase for participating companies, and the expectation for this year is even bigger. Much of the BRW programming is to thank for that, such as the NOSH culinary showcase that provides resources and business opportunities for catering companies and chefs, and the Soundbites Food Truck Parks event,which features food trucks and vendors. Additionally, the brand's nonprofit organization, Feed the Soul, provides small business grants and business development training to combat food injustice and insecurity.
This year marks the second annual More Than Just a Week Campaign, eager to celebrate the diverse cuisine of the African diaspora. Ferrell says the campaign places an emphasis on the restaurants.
“Although we have specific dates for BRW, these restaurants in the city are open year-round and depend on the support of its patrons. We still have many businesses struggling to get back on their feet from the pandemic,” Ferrell says.
As BRW continues to grow outside of Houston, the group has begun to include marketing opportunities for other corners of the culinary world, including bartenders, bakers and manufacturers of sauces, spices and kitchen utensils. The initiative has also started its international journey by expanding to Toronto and Vancouver.
To learn more about this year’s Black Restaurant Week, visit blackrestaurantweeks.com.