Food Lead Story Local News West Edition

Local eateries to participate in Black Restaurant Week

LOS ANGELES — Whether you have simple tastes, elegant fine dining requirements, crave sweets, soul or creole food, healthy cuisine, gluten-free, vegetarian, a new spin on tacos, a Caribbean flair, or some upscale libations and jazz to go with your meal, black restaurants in Los Angeles have a plethora of scrumptious, mouth-watering food choices from which to choose.

A number of local restaurants are taking part in the second Los Angeles Black Restaurant Week Aug. 11-18, part of a now annual, multi-city culinary movement celebrating the flavors of African, African-American and Caribbean cuisine nationwide.

This year, 15 of Los Angeles’ top black culinary establishments are participating including Bayou Grille, Billionaire Burger Boys, Comfort LA, Dulan’s on Crenshaw, Harold & Belle’s, Harriet’s Cheesecakes, M’Dears Bakery and Bistro (two locations), PIPS on La Brea, Post & Beam, Simply Wholesome, Sky’s Gourmet Tacos, Undergrind Café, Watts Coffee House, Simply D’Licious Southern Creole Cuisine and Who’s Hungry Caribbean & Catering. 

Considered the nation’s largest celebration of black-owned food businesses, Black Restaurant Week was launched in 2016 by entrepreneurs Warren Luckett, Falayn Ferrell and Derek Robinson, who were interested in celebrating and highlighting black cuisine through cultural awareness. The 2019 tour also includes Houston, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Dallas and the Bay Area.

“The reason we wanted to do this was to provide awareness and highlight new, hidden gems within the black culinary businesses,” said Derek Robinson, managing partner, and marketing director for Black Restaurant Week. “I love this. We stand for African, African American and Caribbean cuisine. We want to celebrate our art and give back to the community. We want to pour into these chefs and their restaurants the best way we know how so they can grow strong in our communities.”

Robinson, who lives in Houston, said the founders of Black Restaurant Week don’t pick and choose which restaurants can participate, but rather they have an open registration policy that allows any restaurant to participate. He said some of the restaurants will offer special items with discount pricing during the week.

“We leave it up to the restaurants themselves to decide whether or not they want to participate,” said Robinson, whose favorite cuisine is Nigerian food and favorite restaurant is Taste of Africa in Houston.

During its weeklong stint in Los Angeles, Black Resaturant Week will partner with local, black-owned restaurants across the city to offer exclusive prix fixe menus.

Harriet’s Cheesecakes, located at 1515 Centinela Ave. in Inglewood, is one of the participating restaurants. In business since 1986, the owner, Harriet Murphy Parks was a divorced, mother of six (five of her own, plus her sister’s child) when she decided to go into business to help pay for her children’s college educations. She received financial help from family and friends to open her bakery.

“It took about six months for me to open a place,” said Murphy Parks, a Santa Barbara native who moved to Los Angeles 35 years ago. “Everybody thought I was crazy because I held the location for six months with no equipment, no nothing. I really wanted the space. I’ve been here ever since.”

At 81, Murphy Parks continues to bake every day. Her bakery features 65 different cheesecakes that range from $7 per slice to $27.50-$43 for a full pie, including her best sellers — sweet potato, praline, banana pudding, and French vanilla. Murphy Parks boasts that all of her cheesecakes are “made and baked by hand.”

Murphy Parks believes an event like Black Restaurant Week is important to the community.

“Some people don’t realize what we do as a race and what we’re capable of doing,” she said. “I decided to participate because I like doing new things. I’m thinking about this as a marketing tool. We can get new people to come and then keep them as customers.”

If you like your meal accompanied by music, make your way to PIPS on La Brea where you’ll find Barbara Morrison singing on Tuesday nights and a luxury food menu that includes shrimp and grits, rack of lamb, calamari, empanadas, pizza, salmon croquettes and a variety of libations.

Derrick Pipkin, 53, is the owner of PIPS on La Brea and a first-time participant in Black Restaurant Week. He, too, hopes to attract new patrons to his eatery at 1356 S. La Brea Ave.

“I’m participating because I’m a black business and we don’t have too many of them out here in L.A.,” said Pipkin, who recently added a daily brunch (except Monday) to his menu. “Those of us who own restaurants need to get to know each other. No one knows each other because we’re all going full steam ahead with our own. 

“I don’t get out of my restaurant much. This is good because at least now I know about other black restaurants in Los Angeles. The more well known we all are, the better.”

Robinson said part of Black Restaurant Week’s mandate is to exhibit a variety of black culinary businesses and professionals, all while calling attention to minority inequality in the food and beverage industry.

Pipkin, who at 16 worked at a Pioneer Chicken for one week before quitting because ironically he realized he didn’t like the restaurant business, said one of those inequalities is the black business owner’s “inability” to secure a bank loan.

“Financing is one thing about most black businesses,” said Pipkin, who launched PIPS nine years ago when he had no financing and no restaurant experience. “First, a restaurant is one of the hardest businesses to get into. It’s definitely a challenge financially to stay in the business. You can’t get loans from banks because they put you through hoops. It’s been hard, but it’s been rewarding.”

Simply Wholesome, owned by Percell Keeling, has been on the corner of Slauson and Overhill in Los Angeles since 1984.

Keeling is participating in Black Restaurant Week because “it’s a good idea that allows black restaurants to showcase themselves and bring greater awareness that we are around.”

“It’s always nice to be part of a collective,” said Apryl Sims, Simply Wholesome’s general manager. “Anytime we have the opportunity to collectively advertise our offering it allows strength in numbers.”

“We hope people broaden their spectrum when considering dining options and visit all participating restaurants,” Keeling added. 

During Black Restaurant Week, Simply Wholesome will highlight its Chef’s Special, Khalifa Tacos: three hard or soft-shell tacos, avocado, black beans, grilled broccoli, lettuce, and tomatoes (no substitutions); with a No. 9 Caribbean Sunshine cooler: a blend of peach and coconut juice, banana, strawberry icee, lecithin or protein powder. The special will be 20% off the original price of $20.98 (plus tax).

Black Restaurant Week is a great way to not only help small businesses flourish but to try out that restaurant you’ve always wanted to visit, Robinson said.

Because people are able to share their culture and heritage through food, he suggests patrons bring their appetites and make it a tasting adventure as they chow down on dishes from the local list. 

“We are still building,” Robinson said. “We want to expand in the country and continue to highlight these restaurants and give them the platform they deserve. We love being able to come to a city and grow organically.”

Since its inception, Black Restaurant Week boasts a nationwide economic impact of $1.5 million. It has supported 500 businesses and purchased or donated 5,000 pounds of produce.

The 2018 Los Angeles soft launch supported six black-owned businesses and included more than 150 event attendees.

This year, in addition to restaurant week, Black Restaurant Week will also host NOSH: Culinary Showcase from 2 to 5 p.m. Aug. 18 at Vector 90, an inner-city, co-working community and incubator focused on developing underrepresented entrepreneurs. The inaugural location was built in partnership with Nipsey Hussle and City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson. The flagship event will feature food from a host of local black-owned restaurants, catering businesses and food vendors. A portion of the proceeds goes to the farmers that sustain the industry.

Robinson said the organization also will make a donation to Family Agriculture Resource Management Services (FARMS), in support of its efforts to provide legal and technical services to farmers of color.

Since 2017, Black Restaurant Week has partnered with FARMS to help play a role in providing African American farmers financial support which has led to legal assistance for farmers and more than 5,000 pounds of produce donated to help feed communities in need.

“BRW has contributed over $5,000 in program support since last year,” said Jillian Hishaw, FARMS founder. “The money donated will cover the cost of purchasing produce from farmers to be donated to our food bank partners.”

Hishaw noted that in 2019, FARMS, which has been operating for nearly six years, purchased and donated nearly 20,000 pounds of produce and that in the five years the program has existed it has donated more than 300,000 pounds of produce in 10 states. 

“We love to give back,” Robinson said. “It’s a phenomenal organization that helps farmers of color and helps them with their efforts financially, legally and even provides technical assistance.”

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer