Many Houstonians are fans of Houston Restaurant Weeks, the month-long event that raised $1.9 million for the Houston Food Bank in 2015. On April 3, a different kind of restaurant week kicks off, and it also hopes to become an annual tradition.
Houston Black Restaurant Week has been organized to showcase African-American owned restaurants and chefs across the Houston area. Participating restaurants include some of the city's most prominent places, such as Midtown seafood restaurant Holley's, Garden Oaks barbecue joint Gatlin's, and upscale Southern restaurant Lucille's as well as less well-known spots like food truck Etta's Little Kitchen and Cafe Abuja Nigerian Kitchen.
"We wanted to create a week highlighting the Black culinary experience from all across the African diaspora," spokesperson Ashley D. Wyatt tells CultureMap. "We were looking for restaurants that are black-owned and/or operated. We reached out to restaurants that meet that criteria."
Lunch, brunch, and dinner are available during the promotion; however, unlike HRW, Black Restaurant Week participants are serving at a variety of price points. For example, a three-course dinner at Holley's costs $45, while a meal at more modest places like Ray's Real Pit BBQ Shack or Calabash Island Eats only costs $25. As of Wednesday, not all restaurants had posted their menus.
Restaurants pledge to donate 15-percent of their sales to local non-profit group Change Happens, which provides various programs for children and teenagers in Third Ward and Acres Homes.
Black Restaurant Week also includes a number of events, including a pop-up dinner with Hell's Kitchen winner Ja'Nel Witt (April 4), a networking dinner at Davis St (April 6), and a bartending competition at Bar 5015 (April 9).
Of course, it wouldn't be a "restaurant week" without a little controversy, and this one is no different. Some African American owned restaurants aren't participating in BRW, with the most obvious omissions are Gary Mosley's Creek Group restaurants. Wyatt says organizers aren't concerned.
"There were various reasons for the various establishments (that elected not to join)," she says. "We respect that. We’ll work with the people who committed to us and are happy to be part of it."
The Houston Press also notes that website A Black Life will sponsor its own Black Restaurant Week April 17 through 23 but has yet to publish details on participants. Wyatt says that she and the other local organizers have been inspired by similar events in Chicago and Memphis and don't have any connection to the later BRW. For now, diners may choose to focus on the locally organized effort and assess their interest in another round based on their experiences.
All that aside, the event seems poised to attract positive attention for participants. In addition to raising awareness about these businesses and raising money for a worthy cause, Wyatt explains that organizers hope to inspire more African Americans to enter the restaurant business.
"We’d love for it to become an annual event. We just hope to get bigger and better," she says.