Although Richmond Restaurant Week was created in 2001 to celebrate the city’s diverse food scene while giving back to the community, it wasn’t until 2015 that Richmond Black Restaurant Week was created to add to that diversity.
Re-branded in 2016 to Richmond Black Restaurant Experience, the event is a celebratory week dedicated to supporting the city’s black-owned restaurants, food truck and cart operators, caterers and local chefs, while also promoting the region’s growing culinary-tourism scene.
“It aims to counter economic disparity within minority-owned businesses with fun and interactive solutions that engage, excite and ignite a deeper understanding and love of Richmond food culture,” explains co-organizer Shemicia Bowen. The goal is to create a unified week of experiences that, in part, builds community though collective marketing and economics.
Like Richmond Restaurant Week, Richmond Black Restaurant Experience donates part of the week’s profits to local nonprofits. In the past, it has given to Renew Richmond and the Food Justice Corridor. This year, the Urban League of Greater Richmond Young Professionals will be the recipient.
In addition to its philanthropic arm, Richmond Black Restaurant Experience also aims to increase revenue and patronage for the participating restaurants as a means of stimulating business growth.
“Many of our participants now have multiple locations,” says co-organizer Amy Wentz. “There’s Brewer’s Café and Brewer’s Waffle, Spoon Bread and Spoon Bread Deux and Soul Taco now has locations in Jackson Ward and Shockoe Bottom.”
For those unclear about why Richmond needs both restaurant weeks, the organizers of Richmond Black Restaurant Experience see it as an opportunity to highlight the growing black–owned restaurants in the region.
“While Richmond is deemed a foodie town, we want to ensure these businesses are included in that narrative,” says co-organizer Kelli Lemon. Another difference is that Richmond Black Restaurant Experience isn’t just about food. The organizers have combined other elements — social, history, wellness, community and civic partnerships — to offer resources and address entrepreneurship and community wealth-building more holistically.
This year, Richmond Black Restaurant Experience takes place March 1-8 and, for the first time, a second week in the fall is also in the works. Mobile Soul Sunday kicks off the event March 1 from noon to 5 p.m. at Kanawha Plaza. The family-friendly event will offer more than 10 food trucks of all kinds — veggie, Southern soul, Caribbean, grill and smokehouse flavors — so guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets and have a picnic. There will also be a pop-up market, a kids’ zone and DJs playing music.
The final event, Stick a Fork in It, is held March 8 and is reminiscent of Broad Appétit The community is invited to check out local black-owned catering companies and chefs at the Altria Theatre from noon to 5 p.m. Small plates priced at $3-5 will be available, along with an artisan market, tasting contests and cooking demonstrations. Admission is free, but a paid VIP experience is available. In between the first and final events will be a film screening by Afrikana Film Festival at the Black History Museum and Art for the Soul, an evening of food, fashion, art, music and workshops at Studio Two Three. Information for all events can be found at the group’s website.
With 35 participants, eaters will have plenty of choices of old favorites and appetizing newcomers.
“We believe that important conversations can happen over food and this week exposes all of Richmond to the small gems throughout the city,” Bowen says.
“It truly is where culture meets cuisine.”
The Richmond Black Restaurant Experience runs March 1- 8. See virginiablackrestaurantexperience.com.