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Black Restaurant Week Uplifting the Black Culinary Scene

As a Chicago transplant 14 years ago, Ryane Smith was always searching for great-tasting Black restaurants in San Antonio. Six years ago, she launched Black Restaurant Week to make it easier to find Black-owned eateries. 

One would assume her restaurant would be front and center during this event. However, Smith doesn’t own a restaurant or have a food business. Her goal was to highlight African American-owned restaurants in a city known more for Fiesta and the River Walk than its Black culinary scene.

This year, 16 participants and various events will come together from Feb. 25 to March 3 to celebrate Black Restaurant Week. Some of the eateries participating are Chicago Bite, Wine 210, Roots Salad Kitchen and Carmens De La Calle. 

“Black Restaurant Week San Antonio is more than just a culinary event; it’s a celebration of cuisine, culture, and community,” said Smith, founder of Black Restaurant Week San Antonio and a U.S. Air Force veteran. “We are proud to shine a spotlight on the talented Black-owned businesses and professionals in the culinary industry who contribute so much to the fabric of our city.”

Smith said “soul food” is not a part of the name for a reason. Black-owned food owners are more than just soul food. Throughout the week, diners can explore a diverse range of cuisines, from Caribbean fusion highlighting the rich tapestry of flavors and traditions within the Black culinary landscape.

One featured event of Black Restaurant Week is the Black Growers & Farmers Jubilee on Sunday, Feb. 25 at 2 pm at 1917 N. New Braunfels, hosted by Sustainable G’s and Mrs. Aline’s Community Garden. There will be experts in hydroponics, seed-to-soil, Black farmer oral history, herb gardening and more. Also, on Wednesday at 6 p.m. on Feb. 28, tea and wine will collide with the Sip & Stir event. Wine 210 and Mawe Apothecary have teamed up to indulge customers’ senses with a selection of wine by celebrated Black winemakers, along with tea tasting –  highlighting herbs from across the diaspora. Participants can also get advice from a Black tea and wine sommelier. 

Smith said while this year’s Black Restaurant Week has a healthy number of participants, she has seen some of her previous participants struggle to stay open or close after the pandemic. She admits it’s tough for  Black-owned restaurants to survive. Black entrepreneurs own some 9% of restaurant firms, though they make up nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population, according to the National Restaurant Association.

A recent Texas Restaurant Association survey found that only 27% of restaurant operators nationwide expect to be more profitable in 2024. It said elevated food, labor, credit card processing, and other overhead costs for Texas restaurants continue to squeeze profitability, particularly since menu price increases reduce customer traffic. For example, average food prices remain 25% above their pre-pandemic levels. The survey also said 45% of restaurant operators nationwide need more employees to meet customer demand and 70% have job openings that are difficult to fill.  

For Black entrepreneurs, economic challenges add to an already tough business and lending market, which has institutional racism built into it. 

A recent article in Crain’s Chicago Business titled “Chicago’s Black Restaurant Owners Develop Their Own Recipes for Financial Success” said securing loans to capitalize a restaurant can be nearly impossible for Black entrepreneurs. It said operating a restaurant is inherently risky, with low margins and high failure rates, and it’s no secret that Black entrepreneurs have an uphill ladder to climb in trying to secure a loan. However, post George Floyd, alternative lending options such as grants, community loans and crowdfunding have started to become more accessible to help eateries get past the mom-and-pop concept.

The San Antonio community can show Black restaurant owners some love by dining in or attending Black Restaurant Week’s events. Participating restaurants will offer discounts and special promotions throughout the week. Proceeds will support the San Antonio Food Bank and The Lemonade Circle. To learn more, visit (BlackRestaurantWeekSanAntonio.com).

Ebony Huerta Wells has over 25 years of writing and media experience. She was a former business journalist with a major newspaper and worked for other niche publications.

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