Update: In a Facebook post, the organizers behind Black Restaurant Week announced the event would be postponed because of ongoing recovery efforts following Hurricane Ida. Check out the event’s Facebook page for the latest.
The chicken curry special at Royal Taste of Jamaica is belly-warming goodness.
Falling-off-the-bone dark meat chicken is browned and bathed in a golden curry sauce scented with warm, earthy spices. Fluffy white rice absorbs each saucy bite, and the side of chopped, stewed cabbage shows how it’s possible to coax a lowly vegetable into something elegant, even when it’s served in a Styrofoam container.
Royal Taste of Jamaica, a cheery spot downtown with a canary yellow interior, is one of the scores of Black-owned eateries in Baton Rouge that will be featured during the 2021 Baton Rouge Black Restaurant Week, which takes place Sept. 20-26. The weeklong celebration calls attention to the large number of culinary establishments run by Black proprietors, and encourages diners to support them, says creator Geno McLaughlin.
“This is really about being intentional in choosing where you eat,” says McLaughlin, who likens the effort to the shop-and-eat-local movements that placed a priority on supporting homegrown businesses. Similarly, many Black-owned restaurants are mom-and-pop hidden gems, and most have been established through bootstrap persistence rather than outside investment, he says.
The idea for Black Restaurant Week sprouted in 2018, when McLaughlin says he noticed an absence of Black-owned restaurants included in the annual event Baton Rouge Restaurant Week, then organized by Dig Magazine. Now hosted by the site
EatBR.com, the event usually takes place in the summer, (although this year’s was canceled due to restaurant staffing issues). Baton Rouge Restaurant Week, and others like it around the country, promote a list of participating restaurants that have agreed to offer special prix fixe menus during the week. It has traditionally been a way to bolster business in the slower summer months. And for consumers, especially in big cities, it’s been a way to experience fine dining establishments at a lower price point.
McLaughlin, however, has a different goal. Restaurants won’t have to opt in, or be expected to offer specials. He simply wants to encourage diners to support Black-owned restaurants—and not just during Black Restaurant Week. Rather, McLaughlin wants it to become a year-round state of mind in which local residents circulate dollars in businesses that have not had the same access to credit, capital and private investment that white-owned businesses have, he says.
“I just thought it was a timely conversation, saying that Black restaurants weren’t being represented, so why don’t we have our own restaurant week?” McLaughlin says. “That’s kind of the story of Black people a lot of times, whether it’s HBCUs or Black Entertainment Television. Because of a lack of representation, we go and do something to highlight our own, so that we can be successful.”
McLaughlin says Royal Taste of Jamaica is one of his favorite success stories. Owners David and Miya Suarez started the business originally as a home-based catering operation in 2018, then transitioned in March 2020 to Millennial Park, a shipping container park with counter service restaurants on Florida Boulevard. In spring 2021, the Suarezes moved their concept into the former Christina’s Restaurant location downtown on St. Charles Street.
It’s not just restaurants that McLaughlin wants to highlight through Black Restaurant Week. He’s also using the occasion to encourage Baton Rougeans to do business with more Black-owned caterers.
“We want to bring awareness about these businesses,” he says. “And say hey, why not give them a try?”
For more information, find the event on Instagram, @eatblackbr, and on Facebook, Black Restaurant Week Baton Rouge.
A sample of Black-owned restaurants around Baton Rouge to support during Black Restaurant Week, Sept. 20-26.
The Bullfish Bar+Kitchen
Fusion of Southern and authentic Caribbean cuisine