Lines were long this past weekend at many black-owned restaurants in New Orleans due in part to Essence Fest, but also Black Restaurant Week, LLC (BRW). The BRW platform started in 2016 in Houston and has since expanded to multiple cities using the collective efforts of local organizations, professionals and foodies to showcase the talent within the black culinary industry. BRW broadens the lens by focusing on black-owned restaurants as well as chefs, bartenders, caterers, food truck owners, bakers and black farmers. During Essence Fest, BRW made it easy to experience and support local Black businesses throughout New Orleans!
— Visit New Orleans (@VisitNewOrleans) July 6, 2018
The masterminds behind BRW are three black entrepreneurs out of Houston who developed the platform for the underexposed market, the black culinary industry. The BRW team — Warren Luckett, Falayn Ferrell and Derek Robinson — began with no direct experience in organizing a restaurant week, but soon found their competitive edge through the support of the black community. While interfacing with restaurants as the COO of Branwar Wines, a black-owned wine distribution company, Warren noticed the difficulty many black-owned restaurants experienced when trying to promote their business. “I was inspired to showcase just how diverse the culinary community is with minority culinary talent,” said Warren.
Warren partnered with the co-founders of Fade Media Inc., Falayn Ferrell and Derek Robinson, and together, this team constructed a multi-level model that promotes and celebrates African American, African and Caribbean cuisine. In 2016, they tested the model on the Houston market, generating over $50,000 in revenue within the Houston economy during the week-long event. The BRW model has since expanded to Atlanta, Oakland and Philadelphia and will soon introduce Dallas and Los Angeles.
“We like cities that have a strong sense of community and a thriving black business population. The fast expansion has been because markets have contacted us and requested us to host a week. We are looking into Washington D.C. in 2019 and we are open to other opportunities domestically and abroad,” Ferrell explained.
BRW made their mark on New Orleans during Essence Fest, July 1–8, and the showcases restaurants felt the #NolaBRW love!
@lenawaithe thanks for the support ! Heard Dat ! YES WE’RE OPEN! #girlstrip #essencegirlstrip#essencefestival2018 #nola#essence#nolafood#wherenolaeats#blackrestaurantweek#foodporn#loveonaplate#centralcity#supportlocals#eatingnola#nolastyle#esscencefest#ESSENCEMAGAZINE#downtown#uptown#foodlovers#creolecuisine#creativeplates#tasteandSEE#hearddat#SKEESH#chefjeff#esscncefest2018#yelp#tripadvisor#HEARDDATSGOOD
Hey @essencefest fans! We want to see you and your #squad at #TheCupcakeCollection tomorrow! So grab your girls and make plans to meet us at 2917 Magazine Street Suite 102! We’re open from 11-5 on Sundays. #efsquadgoals #efsquad #essence #essencefest #girlstrip #girlstrip2018 #nolabrw #essencefestival2018 #neworleans #nola #blackowned #bakery #nolafood #nolafoodie #dessert
BRW is best described as a celebration of sorts, but serves as a tool to expose the public to the culinary talent within the black community. One aspect of the BRW model is the custom menu options at participating black-owned restaurants, but it does not stop there. Each BRW city includes events targeting multiple levels of the culinary industry including the exclusive dining experience, Art of Flavor, with a local prominent executive chef, Aroma, a panel discussion offering established and emerging restaurant owners with strategies for business development and SoundBites Food Truck Festival which showcases black food truck owners. The highlight of BRW is Nosh, a culinary showcase for chefs and caterers of all calibers to present their best cuisine to hundreds. Nosh is topped off with Power of the Palate, a bartender competition highlighting the creativity of craft bartenders.
But where do the black farmers come into play? According to a 2018 article in the Journal of African American Studies, black farmers operate small sized farms and only make up 1.5 percent of farms, as of 2012, with sales averaging barely $36,000, while the national average sits at $187,000. In a recent interview with Fox 26 Houston, Derek discusses BRW’s relationship with Family Agriculture Resources Management Systems (F.A.R.M.S), a non-profit organization that offers legal and protective services to elderly African American farmers. F.A.R.M.S. receives a portion of the proceed from BRW.
“We believe that [F.A.R.M.S] creates a model for BRW. We’ve gone from the farm-to-table series with this organization and through the support of BRW, a portion of the proceeds goes to support that effort, and that organization really thinks about the sustainability of black farmers. So, F.A.R.M.S is able to provide resources to those black farmers to be able to have sustainability nationwide,” Derek stated.
As you can see, the efforts of BRW, though appetizing, should not be taken lightly. The affiliation with F.A.R.M.S creates a dialogue and potential partnerships between black farmers, chefs and restaurant owners that leads to a boost in the economy and the black community.
Special thanks to @blkrestaurantwk
#nolabrw for your #support of F.A.R.M.S. If you are in the #NewOrleans area please visit the participating restaurants. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to our food bank program. #Louisana
— Jillian Hishaw (@JillianHishaw) July 5, 2018
To date, BRW has experienced rapid growth with support from over 200 restaurants, chefs, bartenders, food truck owners, food stands, black businesses and corporate sponsors. In turn, this drives customers to the black-owned establishments, leading to growth and sustainability of black-owned businesses. BRW participant and well-known chef, Mark Holley, stated in an interview with BRW, “I love BRW because we are shining a light on small, black-owned businesses that might not get the awareness or recognition otherwise. While we may not always get the recognition, our flavors, spices and cooking traditions are a part of the very fabric of this country.”