Three Washingtonians are launching a first-of-its-kind Black Restaurant Week this fall to highlight black culinary and bar talent as well as black-owned restaurants in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Imagine it like Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s Restaurant Week, where restaurants offer discounted lunch and dinner prix fixe meals, but with an ambitious slate of programming from Nov. 4-11 designed to empower up-and-coming talent.
“We’re bringing in people from all over to come and talk about the issues plaguing this industry and more specifically this city with the lack of [black] ownership here,” says Andra “AJ” Johnson, one of the three co-organizers. She’s a bar consultant and the author of forthcoming book White Plates, Black Faces. The book addresses the African-American experience in local restaurants and the lack of pipelines to help service industry workers graduate from employee to employer. “I think five or ten years ago a Black Restaurant Week wouldn’t have existed at all,” Johnson adds.
Johnson is collaborating with Dr. Erinn Tucker, a professor at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies. She’s been in the academic space for 15 years teaching hospitality and was the one to bring the idea into fruition. “There is such a large opportunity for food and beverage jobs that are a huge part of the local economy,” Tucker says. “It’s a seven-day opportunity to expose African American and allied businesses and help them promote their business to the city by inviting in customers throughout the week.”
Tucker highlights some of the events, such as a bartender competition on Nov. 5; mixology classes on Nov. 6-8; a conference on Nov. 10 about entrepreneurship, financing, and other topics; and an awards brunch honoring local hospitality professionals on Nov. 11.
Furard Tate is also working on Black Restaurant Week with Johnson and Tucker. He’s had several careers including preparing meals for D.C. charter schools and running Inspire Barbecue on H Street NE. They all share one thing in common—preparing marginalized communities for employment in the food service industry. Tate made national news for offering job training to veterans and at-risk youth there before the restaurant closed and became condos.
Now Tate is gearing up to open a new business called Love Market in Brookland in 2019 that will address unemployment and homelessness by training cohorts of people ages 19 to 25 in a fast-casual restaurant setting. Participants will live above the establishment. “We need to have young people ready to go into these new hospitality businesses,” he says.
As for his involvement in Black Restaurant Week, Tate says, “Anyone should be able to come into your establishment and get a fair price for a quality meal. Black Restaurant Week will do that. It will shine a light on existing restaurants, where a lot of them haven’t been able to participate in other restaurant weeks for lots of reasons.” Some of the D.C. area’s black-owned restaurants aren’t set up to offer a three-course meal as is customary with RAMW’s restaurant week. Organizers are finagling a way for different kinds of eateries to participate.
The full roster of participating restaurants, bars, food trucks, and more will be announced closer to November, but the organizers are seeking the public’s help in identifying participants in D.C. and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Allied restaurants, or those who want to show their support for the black community, are also invited to participate.
Johnson is asking people to take a picture with their favorite black restaurant owner or chef and tag #DMVBRW.
Tucker explains that Black Restaurant Week in November will kick off a full year of programming throughout the region. “We’re going to have a continuing discussion in this space,” she says. “Once a quarter we’ll do programming for hospitality professionals and the public.” One of the first topics will be health and wellness due to the demanding nature of the hospitality industry.
Find updates on participants and scheduling at dmvbrw.com.
Update 6/28: There was a Black Restaurant Week organized in 2015 by ABlackLife LLC, a marketing and media company which puts together events in various U.S. cities. The D.C. week included discounted meals at area black-owned establishments but was otherwise conceptually much different. The event planned for November focuses on programming ranging from a conference and an awards ceremony to mixology workshops. New York-based I DON’T CLUBS says it brought New York Black-Owned Restaurant Month to D.C. also in 2015. This post has been updates to reflect these past events.