Restaurant Week, created in July 1992 by New Yorkers Tim Zagat and Joe Baum, was designed to coincide with the weeklong Democratic National Convention — a time when event planners knew that 15,000 hungry delegates would be on the prowl for plenty of good food.
The event, which was celebrated this weekend, has since evolved into a nationwide showcase of fine dining, though many Black-owned restaurants were not eligible for participation at the beginning.
For example, in D.C., Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week standards require participating restaurants to provide a three-course menu for lunch, dinner or both. Such standards uphold the traditional version of Restaurant Week where meals are regularly priced at more than $50 a plate.
However, Black-owned restaurants which are typically casual dining places, offer a more relaxed atmosphere and prices that make them affordable to the communities they serve.
Falayn Ferrell joined Derek Robinson and Warren Luckett to create Black Restaurant Week LLC, a traveling exhibition of Black excellence within the restaurant industry that highlights the best food from Black-owned restaurants in various cities.
They not only showcase the complexity and diversity of flavors created by skilled hands but also set the stage for casual dining restaurants that offer the same quality (if not better) as some of the fine dining places.
During the pandemic, Black Restaurant Week LLC is providing hope for the few Black restaurants that operate in D.C., Maryland and Virginia area.
“[COVID-19] actually allowed us to be virtual and cast a wider net,” Ferrell said. “We extended D.C. to be a region by including Baltimore as well. Last year, we showcased 260 businesses. This year, we’re already at 350 businesses and we still have five or six more campaigns to do. We really set out to create something that was all-encompassing so, in addition to Black Restaurant Week, we added on events because we wanted to showcase caterers who often get left out of the story as well as food trucks and bartenders.”
The work of Black Restaurant Week LLC is impactful, as it brings awareness of Black-owned businesses by emphasizing the strength of the Black community to not only survive obstacles but to also thrive.
A recently released report by the Minority Business Development Agency states that by 2044, minority-owned businesses will be the fastest-growing segment in the nation.
In the U.S., while minority-owned enterprises account for 29% of all firms, only 11% have paid employees. The District of Columbia is the only place in the nation where nearly 30% of all businesses are Black-owned.
The number of active business owners in the United States plummeted by 3.3 million, or 22 percent, over the crucial two-month window of February to April 2020. As a result, African American businesses were hit especially hard, experiencing a 41 percent drop, according to a report by the University of California at Santa Cruz.
While the government created the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses to cover expenses like labor and utilities, many Black-owned enterprises were unable to reap the benefits.
“Most Black-owned restaurants don’t have the startup capital like some fine dining institutions. They’re using personal accounts, credit cards, and loans with high-interest rates to open their businesses,” Ferrell said.
According to an analysis in April by the Center for Responsible Lending, businesses owned by people of color are less likely to qualify for larger loans that would yield higher fees to make them a priority for lenders. They are also even more likely to have no employees, putting them at an even greater disadvantage to larger businesses that could garner higher fees.
Chef Edward Reavis from All Set Restaurant & Bar in Silver Spring, Md., said his business is one of the few Black-owned restaurants to receive a Paycheck Protection Program loan.
“We didn’t get the money first time around because the banks were earning fees from the larger loans,” Reavis said. “It took three to four weeks to finally get the funding and those funds have just dried up in the last couple of weeks. Right now, I’m operating at 60-70 percent of what I used to operate. I’m not paying myself like I was. I need everything I’m trying to do to work.”