Published July 23rd, 2021 at 6:00 AM
Black Restaurant Week took on new urgency last year as the hospitality industry struggled through a pandemic and the death of George Floyd catalyzed the Black Lives Matter movement.
Adrian Jordan, the owner and general manager of Elevate Bar & Grill in Kansas City, Kansas, was thankful for the attention Kansas City’s inaugural Black Restaurant Week brought to his Black-owned business.
As the 10-day “No Crumb Left Behind” campaign focusing on the road to recovery for Black-owned restaurants kicks off today and runs through Aug. 1, Jordan is eager to see if he will find the same support in 2021.
“It really felt good to see the support from the Black community at that time,” Jordan says. “One of the knocks of Black community and African Americans in general is we don’t support our own establishments. It was really neat last year to get flooded by people who wouldn’t have necessarily come in.”
Known for Southern comfort food and a comfortable but elevated atmosphere, Elevate Bar & Grill is set to serve some of its signature items, including American farm-raised catfish, buttermilk-dipped chicken strips and waffles and a twist on mom’s meatloaf.
“Elevate wasn’t intended to be a full restaurant. We thought we’d serve bar food, but these downhome favorites have just taken off, and we’re executing them in a kitchen as tiny as can be,” Jordan says.
He calls last year’s crush of carry-out supporters “a blessing when revenue was slow … I’m just hoping they’re not expecting pre-pandemic level hospitality (this year). We’re still working on staffing and trying to get a better understanding of what the pandemic is about and where we are with the whole vaccine situation.”
Black Restaurant Week was launched in Houston in 2016 by three culinary-focused entrepreneurs and their organization has continued to gather steam, taking the event to states and then regions, expanding into 15 markets.
In 2020, the organization supported 670 Black-owned culinary businesses across the United States and generated an average 34% sales increase. Sixty-five restaurants in the Kansas City metro will participate in the Midwest campaign in 2021. There is no charge for Black business owners to participate. Sponsors include Pepsi Dig In, Grubhub, Maker’s Mark, Stella Artois and Bacardi. All participants are entered into the national directory. Entrepreneurs producing sauces, spices and mixes also can participate by placing their product in the online HRVST Marketplace.
Visit KC’s KC Restaurant Week offers support for many of these businesses, but Black Restaurant Week aims to showcase local Black-owned Kansas City restaurants to a national audience.
“Basically, it is a marketing campaign to help Black businesses that do not have a big budget to get some marketing. Marketing is key, and we can help with growth and resources,” says Alycia Hightower, national food and beverage director for Black Restaurant Week.
During the pandemic, 44% of Black-owned restaurants went out of business versus 17% of white-owned restaurants, according to a study by the University of California, Santa Cruz. Hightower recently heard from a Midwest participant in Indianapolis who will not be able to return this year because the restaurant has shuttered, but the owner told her Black Restaurant Week was a meaningful highlight.
“It’s stories like that that make it all worthwhile,” Hightower says. “The whole purpose of the campaign is to support these businesses.”
Hightower, who is originally from Kansas City, casts a wide net to contact Black-owned restaurants, bars, lounges, cafés, bakeries, pizzerias, food trucks and private chefs to spotlight African American, African and Caribbean cuisines.
Despite closures, there have been Black-owned successes. “There are so many vegan places that opened, and I’m so excited because I’ve been vegan for three years,” Hightower says.
Mattie’s Vegan Eats in Waldo progressed from food truck to a brick-and-mortar location in Waldo during the pandemic while Gigi’s Vegan Café in Westport was chosen for a $10,000 Feed the Soul restaurant mentorship program sponsored by Black Restaurant Week.
Maurice Banks, owner of Catch-N-Release Fried Fish & Bbq, will participate in Black Restaurant Week for the first time. Although not sure what to expect, he’s thrilled to be included in the organization’s national directory.
Located in the urban core, Banks says Black Restaurant Week gives “our people a chance to taste some authentic soul food” from a family owned business that includes a brick-and-mortar location and a food truck.
Banks will offer catfish, wing and shrimp combos with two sides for $10.
“When they Google, they’ll see I’m Black-owned,” Banks says. “I’m just hoping and praying that the (local) Black community steps up and supports us.”
Jill Wendholt Silva is a James Beard award-winning food editor and freelance writer. You can follow Silva at @jillsilvafood.