Friday marks the start of this year’s Black Restaurant Week, a nationwide showcase of Black-owned restaurants now in its fifth year. The event originated as a one-city celebration of African American, African and Caribbean cuisine in Houston in 2016, and has since expanded to eight cities and 270 restaurants across the country.
Marcus Ward, owner of Urban Grill in Uptown, says participating in the event gives his restaurant visibility beyond what he could achieve as a small business owner.
“It puts us on a citywide, statewide, national scale of things, so people know if you stop in Chicago you don’t just have to go to Giordano’s, you can come to Urban Grill,” he said.
The owners of Haire’s Gulf Shrimp in Auburn Park agree that the nine-day celebration brings in diners who might not otherwise have found their restaurant.
“This will be our second or third time participating. It’s just a wonderful experience and even though we’ve been in the business a long time, 28 years, people have gotten here [through Black Restaurant Week] that never would’ve found us,” said Aisha Haire.
The Haires say the story of their deep-fried Gulf shrimp recipe, which originated with Finnie Haire’s family in Louisiana, explains why it’s important to support small, family owned businesses like theirs: “It’s a 100-year-old trade secret family recipe … that’s why we’re Haire’s famous Louisiana fried shrimp. It’s a family run business, that’s why we want to do it, keep the tradition going.”
Ward says that in addition to showcasing his business, Black Restaurant Week is also a platform for representing Black entrepreneurs.
“Young people that look like me can see hey, you can own a restaurant, you can own a business if you want to,” said Ward. “It’s my way of putting my face out there. So I’m just trying to do my part for the community.”
Chicago-area participants in the 2020 Black Restaurant Week are:
— My Just Desserts, 31 E. Broadway, Alton
— Brown’s Soulfood Restaurant, 5254 W Chicago Ave, Chicago
— FruVe xPress Juicery, 1108 W Madison, Chicago
— Haire’s Gulf Shrimp, 7448 S Vincennes, Chicago
— Kilwin’s Chocolates Fudge & Ice Cream, 5226 S Harper Ave, Chicago
— LaDeeDa, 1725 W Division St, Chicago
— Lizzy J’s Café and Catering, 2205 W Montrose Ave, Chicago
— Truth Italian, 56 E. Pershing, Chicago
— Urban Grill, 1132 W Wilson Ave, Chicago
— Dock’s, 4011 W 167th, Chicago
— Taste 222, 222 N Canal St, Chicago