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St. Louis Black Restaurant Week Aims To Cook Up Support For African American Eateries

Burger 809 on Cherokee Street is one of the restaurants taking part in St. Louis Black Restaurant Week 2019.
Holly Edgell | St. Louis Public Radio

Without support from diners, no restaurant can survive. Frank Williamson, organizer of St. Louis Black Restaurant Week, says attracting customers can be especially challenging for African American eateries.

Highlighting local black restaurants to help them attract customers is the driving force behind the week.

Diners can visit eight restaurants between Sept. 3-8 and enjoy a variety of specials. Williamson wants this week to be a relationship-building experience among restaurateurs, chefs and patrons.

“There is always a Downtown Restaurant Week, a Clayton Restaurant Week, but nothing for the African American community, so I wanted to show that we have talent, too,” Williamson said.

On the map

Williamson considers himself a foodie and frequents various eateries around the St. Louis region. He noticed that some black restaurants lack customers simply because they are located in north St. Louis.

“I think it’s a stigma on (black-owned restaurants), but we have to stick with our own,” Williamson said. “So, this is going to help put them on the map, hopefully.”

The first St. Louis Black Restaurant Week was brought to the region by Memphis Restaurant Week organizer Jessica Bailey. Her experience in that city showed her there could be significant growth in profits and customer retention for restaurant owners by highlighting local eateries over the course of a week. 

Bailey expanded on the idea of showcasing African American chefs, restaurateurs and fare to St. Louis. 

Fresh approach

Tasha Smith, chef and owner of Burger 809,saw St. Louis Black Restaurant Week as an avenue to change the narrative of black-owned eating establishments. Smith said most black restaurants are stereotyped as being overpriced and extending poor customer service.

“People come in that door looking to get fed, and I want that experience to be positive and delightful,” Smith said. 

When it comes to Smith’s Cherokee Street takeout restaurant and catering business, she said she opted to use fresh ingredients because in many black communities, consuming fresh meats and vegetables is not an option. 

“Some areas are considered food deserts, and I didn’t want to be a part of the problem. I wanted to be a part of the solution,” Smith said.

As a black woman in the food industry, Smith said she is underrepresented, and uses her platform to expose cooking to children. 

“If you get children interested in cooking, then often they make healthier choices,” she added.

Sharing meals

Throughout the week, restaurants like Prime 55 Restaurant and Lounge, Seafood from Crushed Velvetand TKO Grillwill provide three-course meals for lunch and dinner. The specials will range from $15 to $30, respectively. Hyde Park’s The River Lillie will offer breakfast and lunch specials. 

“Food is important to the black community, and most conversations happen around dinner,” Smith said. “It gives us an opportunity to get back to sharing meals together, which creates peacefulness.”
Williamson wants to help bring black-owned restaurants that are operating in the red back into the black. He said the first restaurant week brought in more than $50,000 across all the participating eateries. He also hopes this week will open the kitchen doors of African American-owned restaurants to new patrons and provide a better understanding of black food culture to consumers.

Related: Yelp users name St. Louis as second-most popular foodie destination in the U.S.

Andrea Y. Henderson is part of the public-radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Andrea at @drebjournalist

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.