RACHEL BELLE

Black Restaurant Week in PNW encourages support of local, Black-owned restaurants

Feb 23, 2021, 5:49 AM
Black Restaurant Week, Altha's Cajun Spices...
Kent's Altha's Cajun Spices owner, Reginald Robinson, with customer Sir Mix-A-Lot.

Every April in Seattle is Seattle Restaurant Week, where hundreds of the city’s restaurants offer special three-course menus, at set prices, to lure diners in. But this week is Black Restaurant Week, a marketing campaign created to encourage people to eat in Black-owned restaurants.

New restaurants are opening in the middle of the pandemic — but why?

“It started in Houston in 2016,” said co-founder Falayn Ferrell. “We have a really robust Houston Restaurant Week, but a lot of the businesses in our community didn’t really fit that model. They don’t have the fine dining, three course, so we wanted to create a platform to really showcase and let the businesses in our community shine. Just to bring awareness, celebrate the food, the heritage.”

The program worked so well in Houston, it expanded to 15 other regions of the country. From Feb. 19-28, the focus is on Black-owned restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, including Kent’s Altha’s Louisiana Cajun Seasoning and Spices, owned by Reginald Robinson. He opened his deli and store four years ago after struggling to find the flavors and brands he missed from his hometown of New Orleans.

“Red beans and rice, greens, po’ boys and catfish,” said Robinson, who ships the food and po’ boy bread, already cooked, from New Orleans. “We have alligator, we have boudin, we have crawfish, and everything in our store has that Louisiana brand to it. One of our top sellers is Camellia red beans; everybody, on Mondays, they cook red beans down in Louisiana, it’s just a thing they do. Sometimes we even bring Blue Bell ice cream here. Anyone from down in the south — Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi — their eyes light up and people be like, ‘Oh my god, you have Blue Bell?'”

Ferrell says, historically, it has been harder for Black people to get approved for a bank loan.

“The issue in our community is that a lot of businesses are started with people’s personal savings, credit cards. Usually, when they do get loans, they have higher interest rates,” Ferrell said. “So they just don’t have that financial wiggle room to really sustain major hits to a business.”

But she says helping restaurants market during Black Restaurant Week can bring new customers in.

“I think last year the average sales increase was about 30%,” Ferrell said. “Most businesses see an increase in their social media following as well. When we talk about ongoing business opportunities, people used to call us all the time, ‘Hey, we’re hosting a food truck festival, give me your list of Black-owned food trucks.’ So it creates ongoing business opportunities. The cool thing is we tell businesses, ‘welcome to the network,’ because we’re always able to push back at opportunities for you.”

Robinson says his sales have been up 50% since the Black Lives Matter movement resurged in 2020. He’s not sure how much of that business is people wanting to support a local Black business or if it’s because he sells a unique product.

I asked him if he wants to be identified as a “Black-owned business,” or if he’d rather just be a business, sans label.

“Until people realize that everybody is equal, you may have to do that so we can get attention,” Robinson said. “But my whole dream is that you would treat Black restaurants just as you would treat another restaurant. People don’t believe it, but as a Black-owned business, you have to go the extra mile just to prove what other people don’t have to go through. That’s my dream and hope that one day we don’t have to do that.”

This is the first year Black Restaurant Week is in the Pacific Northwest region, so their list of restaurants is still short. Click here for a guide to more Black-owned Seattle restaurants.

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Black Restaurant Week in PNW encourages support of local, Black-owned restaurants