Celebration of Black-Owned Restaurants Underway

Vanetta Roy’s restaurant didn’t suffer much at the start of the pandemic. The owner of Surf’s Up in South Shore thought she had it all clear when her business resumed take-out orders after just a week off. However, the lasting effects proved more difficult to manage.

“Just being able to maintain my prices for the community I serve, while profiting, is next to impossible at this point,” Roy said.

Restaurant owners and Roy and others, hoping to bolster their businesses after two tough years, are taking part in Black Restaurant Week, which kicks off on Sunday.

The event, effectively two weeks of promotions and offers, will highlight black-owned restaurants in the city and suburbs. It runs until February 20.

The event is intended to bring visibility and new customers to black-owned restaurants in the region, said Lauran Smith, event founder and digital marketer.

“African American businesses that are specifically focused on food, beverages, desserts and all of those things deserve their own space — to be exhibited and, you know, celebrated, discussed,” Smith said.

This year, 36 restaurants are participating, about 50 fewer companies than last year. Smith said the drop could be due to uncertainty in the restaurant industry and the lasting effects of the pandemic.

With variants of COVID-19 still evolving, supply chain issues, a labor shortage, and no additional federal relief funds in sight, 2022 has already gotten off to a rocky start for some of these restaurants.

“2021 [was] harder for me than 2020,” said Roy, whose restaurant has locations on the South Shore, Bronzeville, Lombard and Oak Park.

Roy has seen the costs of essentials like catfish, potatoes and chicken wings more than double – and in some cases, triple.

“A crate of potatoes cost nine dollars. It’s $34 now,” said Roy, who is also a Chicago public school special education teacher.

Roy said she hoped Black Restaurant Week would provide a much-needed boost to business during the tough winter months.

“Pricing is difficult for customers, especially in my region. In a community that I serve where…a lot of it is way below the poverty line, they’ve had EBT or government assistance, I always have to explain to customers like, ‘Yeah, I’m sorry, the price went down but that’s the price of food now. “

Aisha Murff, owner of Haire’s Gulf Shrimp, 7448 S. Vincennes Ave., with her late husband, founder Finnie Haire.
Courtesy of Aisha Haire / Haire’s Famous Gulf Shrimp

Aisha Murff, owner of Haire’s Gulf Shrimp, 7448 S. Vincennes Ave. has been attending the event for about four years. She likes that he’s focused on small businesses — “startup, mom-and-grassroots-pop” operations, she called them.

“We’ve been a staple in the community for 20 years and as a member of Black Restaurant Week I love that…it gets our name out there. And I want everyone to taste the delicious shrimp.

During this year’s event, Haire’s is giving away a $10 bag of “bomb shrimp.”

Like Roy, Murff prioritizes keeping costs affordable for members of his community.

“It’s something affordable that everyone [can afford], even though I am in a low-income area,” she said. “But I’m a fixture in the community, hiring single moms and kids a stone’s throw from high school. It’s something that people can afford… I offer seniors a fixed income which on the first of the month is their treat.

“It will be a tradition with us,” she said. “As long as Lauren continues to do so, we will always participate.”

Niquenya Collins is the chef-owner of Cocoa Chili, which operates out of The Hatchery, a restaurant incubator located at 135 N. Kedzie Ave. Its Afro-Caribbean-Soul restaurant offers delivery, takeout and catering services.

Collins is offering $5 off purchases of $20 or more.

“I knew it was a great opportunity to shine a light on the fact that we were a small black woman-owned business and to get our name out there,” said Collins, who started Cocoa Chili about a year ago. .

Since the restaurant opened, she’s also donated more than 2,000 free meals through Love Fridges, which are fridges full of free take-out food.

“Our social mission is really to be a resource, a community hub, not only educating patients about resources that can improve their socio-economic status, but also addressing food insecurity,” she said. .

Pandemic concerns have also weighed on his business. It has been difficult to source high-quality chicken wings and keep business running smoothly, she said.

“We definitely operate with skeleton staff,” Collins said. “It’s really just me and my son most of the time. We have my mother coming to do the dishes and the organisation, and this coming week… my brother is coming… But it’s very difficult.

A list of all participating businesses is available on the event website, chiblackrestaurantweek.com.

“I just want them to grow, so they can support and continue to feed our families,” Smith said. “That’s the whole story.”

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