Furard Tate wants to get this out of the way: Don’t be fooled by DMV Black Restaurant Week’s name.
“This week is for everybody,” says Tate, one of the event’s organizers. “No matter what gender, color or age you are — this is an inclusive celebration of food and culture.”
The inaugural event, which begins Sunday and runs through Nov. 11, aims to shine a light on the black small businesses and culinary talent that are a part of D.C.’s sprawling restaurant landscape. Tate, along with co-organizers Dr. Erinn Tucker and Andra “AJ” Johnson, teamed up after Washington City Paper published a story in March on Johnson’s forthcoming book “White Plates, Black Faces,” which details the lack of opportunities given to African-American service workers in the restaurant industry.
“Dr. Tucker saw the article, emailed me and said, ‘Hey, I want to meet you, and you also need to meet my friend, Furard,’ ” Johnson says.
Tucker, a professor of global hospitality leadership at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies, felt a connection with Johnson’s message. As a woman of color with extensive hospitality experience, she understands the need to empower African-American business owners who want to start their own restaurants. So does Tate, who ran the nonprofit soul food restaurant Inspire BBQ and has firsthand knowledge of the challenges these owners face. His H Street restaurant closed in 2014 after a real estate developer bought the property to build condos.
“It was a struggle because I didn’t have access to information and capital to be able to compete with some of the larger restaurants that were more established,” Tate says.
With a collective vision of how to tackle industry issues, Tucker, Johnson and Tate came up with a solution in June: DMV Black Restaurant Week. During the week, participating restaurants will offer three-course prix fixe menus or discounts of 10 to 15 percent. More than two dozen restaurants are taking part, including Ben’s Chili Bowl, DCity Smokehouse and Smith Commons.
“There’s no way that we could have done Black Restaurant Week 10 or even five years ago,” Johnson says. “There just weren’t enough black-owned restaurants in the city.”
The weeklong event also includes a bartending competition at Service Bar on Monday and a live podcast taping at Unconventional Diner on Wednesday. The biggest highlight for Tate, Tucker and Johnson is a conference ($60-$70) at the University of the District of Columbia on Nov. 10 centered on preparing the next generation of restaurant leaders. Industry insiders will host panel discussions on topics such as raising capital, advocating for higher pay and handling harassment in the workplace.
“We believe that we can help restaurants with proper training,” Tate says. “We are providing solutions to the whole issue rather than just talking about the problems.”
Among the event’s participating restaurants are allied partners that are offering their own deals during the week. These partners aren’t necessarily black-owned businesses but they embrace the week’s mission of inclusion.
“We have businesses like Anxo and Busboys and Poets who have signed on to be allied partners this year,” Tucker says. “They aren’t black-owned, but they are participating in the event and support what we’re doing.”
The trio already have next year’s DMV Black Restaurant Week in the books and are planning to do additional year-round programming that offers restaurant training and education for business owners and culinary talent. For those people who just want to eat — and soon — next week’s inaugural event should hit the spot, Tate says.
“If you have a friend who says, ‘I’ve never had good macaroni and cheese or food from West Africa,’ Black Restaurant Week is an opportunity for you to experience this culture and lifestyle,” Tate says. “It’s open to everybody.”
Various locations; Sun. through Nov. 11, various times and prices; go to dmvbrw.com for details.