Memphis Black Restaurant Week brings needed exposure

The inaugural Memphis Black Restaurant Week beginning March 7 is an opportunity to highlight some of the city’s African American-owned eateries while sharing entrepreneurial examples for the community.

A common theme these days in Memphis is people recognizing the endless possibilities to make an idea reality.

Cynthia Daniels loves food. The public relations coordinator with the Workforce Investment Network, she’s an unabashed fan of the city’s growing restaurant scene. During the annual Downtown Dining Week in November, she realized a similar event promoting African American-owned restaurants could help shine a new light on some of her favorite spots.

From that idea came the first Memphis Black Restaurant Week. March 7 through 13 lunch and dinner specials will help highlight eight black-owned restaurants in the city to raise awareness about minority-owned businesses in general and specifically bring in new customers for the restaurants.
Cynthia Daniels, organizer of Memphis Black Restaurant Week
Daniels pointed out that Memphis honors civil rights history, but there are other important points of black heritage to honor. And in a city where more than 60 percent of the population is black, it’s good to recognize some of those business achievements.

“My hope is this can be celebrated and become just as big as Italian Fest and Greek Fest,” she said. “We don’t have anything that celebrates African Americans quite like that.”

The inaugural Memphis Black Restaurant Week features eight eateries, but it could include so many more. Daniels said she’s hopeful it will grow in the future to shine a light on more of the businesses.

“It was really looking at my favorites and trying to look in the Midtown and Downtown areas,” she said. “Location was important to me for this event. We’re moving forward with these eight. In the second year we can take additional restaurants, but I didn’t want to overwhelm in the planning process. I wanted to keep it small.”

The participating restaurants are DejaVu, Evergreen Grill, HM Dessert Lounge, The Bistro, Onix, the Office@Uptown, Mot & Ed’s and Scoops Parlor.

Valerie Peavy owns The Office@Uptown, a restaurant/work space in the Uptown neighborhood. She said when Daniels approached her in the fall about having a restaurant week, she was intrigued.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of anything directed toward black businesses,” she said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for us as a restaurant to be part of the community of restaurants doing something a little different. And we do something different. When you think of black restaurants you think soul food. But the diversity of what black restaurants have to offer is important to me.”
The Office@Uptown specializes in sandwiches, soups and salads. Peavy said she plans to offer breakfast and lunch specials during Black Restaurant Week. She’s tried out a variety of new sandwiches on customers to decide what to roll out.

She said the Black Restaurant Week will serve as an opportunity to enhance the menu while exposing the unique work space/café business mix to a broader audience.

For other business owners, this is a chance to say hello to Memphis. Scoops Parlor opened in early February at 106 G.E. Patterson Ave. in the South Main Historic Arts District. The timing couldn’t be better for husband-wife owners QuaSheba Jones-Callicutt and Terrance Callicutt.

“It’s optimal timing for us to join,” Jones-Callicutt said. “We hope it brings some exposure for us and for people who may otherwise don’t have a reason to tap into our restaurant. It’s an awesome platform.”

Scoops Parlor specializes in gelato and crepes, unique Italian and French cuisines not only for the South Main neighborhood but the city in general. And Black Restaurant Week helps highlight that diversity.

“I liken this to the women’s expo held at Agricenter and India Fest every year just to showcase diversity,” Jones-Callicutt said. “We are providing crepes that are French and gelato that’s Italian. I like the idea of showing possibilities.”

Those possibilities, in fact, include showcasing good business models to the community. Jones-Callicutt takes pride in the fact her husband is a Frayser product who has created a viable business. She said she believes the city’s youth can learn from their entrepreneurial example.

“Memphis is a city where there is a disproportionate amount of poverty so this is one way of showing people you can build your own business, it’s a possibility,” she said. “If we can reach people in more impoverished areas, they can see the possibilities. That’s invaluable. To see someone who looks like you can be inspiring. If we can start there that can turn the tide for the city as a whole. If we can build the economy in lower-income areas it builds the whole city.”

Daniels said the response from the community has been exciting since she announced the idea in early January.
“A lot of people went crazy with it on social media,” she said. “It started with me and an idea. Now I have a team of millennials who want to be on a street team and help on social media.”

The news of Memphis Black Restaurant Week has already helped business at HM Dessert Lounge. The family-owned lounge and café that opened in November on Madison Avenue in Midtown specializes in American cuisine with a Southern flair at lunch before becoming at dessert lounge at 3 p.m.

“Folks aren’t waiting until the week,” said chef and owner Fran Mosely. “They’re coming to check out the restaurant now since the news has come out. It will expose people to our establishment who may not have known we exist.”

When Mosely first heard of the event she was excited, but she said her husband initially had reservations about the event being viewed as exclusive.

“His position is, ‘I don’t want to deter anyone from coming,’” Mosely said. “We believe in cultural diversity. But it’s all about highlighting African American entrepreneurship in the restaurant business who may or may not have an opportunity to pay for advertisements or may not fiscally be able to have ads, so it’s a celebration of folks who have decided to run a business.”
Daniels said that while it’s called Memphis Black Restaurant Week, the event is inclusive of everyone in the community.
“At the end of the day I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re not included,” she said. “This is for everyone to attend but we’re celebrating minority-owned businesses. The overall tone is one of support.”

Exposure for black-owned restaurants to current and potential customers is important. Mosely said she’s confident people will enjoy their unique takes on lunch and dessert. But more than that, she wants to show great customer service.

“Even if somebody comes to our business and they don’t like our food they won’t be able to say our service is bad,” she said. “We need to know that, not just as African American-owned businesses but small businesses overall.”

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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