By Renetta Burrell Perry
The legacy of Black-owned restaurants in New Orleans runs as deep as the muddy waters in the Mississippi River. From staples like the historic and internationally famous Dooky Chase’s to the newer, but none-the-less palatably phenomenal Neyow’s, people all over the world flock to The Big Easy to not only to ease their cares, but to fill their stomachs. This sentiment was amusingly echoed in President Barack Obama’s 10th-Year Katrina Anniversary speech here in 2015 as he noted the decadence of our cuisine: “As soon as I land in New Orleans, the first thing I do is get hungry,” he said, jokingly adding, “When I was here with the family a few years ago, I had a shrimp po-boy at Parkway Bakery and Tavern. I still remember it— that’s how good it was.”
During Black Restaurant Week (May 19 – May 31) and over the next several weeks as we enter vacation season, bringing thousands of tourists to New Orleans, Data News Weekly will highlight some of what makes New Orleans Cuisine so good— keeping laser focus on Black-owned restaurants.
From U.S. Presidents (both Barack Obama and George W. Bush have had the pleasure of dining at Dooky Chase’s and both have publicly raved over the food) to celebrities and Food Network stars, the reputation for good food is undisputed here. But Black-owned restaurants in New Orleans, though lauded for their cuisine, still face the same disparities as many other Black-owned businesses. Data News Weekly caught up with Erica Durousseau of Eat NOLA Noir (eatnolanoir.com) for a quick Q&A regarding the importance of Black Restaurant Week and she noted that the lack of good food is not the drawback to business success, however the lack of resources and exposure create major issues.
Data News Weekly: Each year during the month of September there’s New Orleans Restaurant Week which links restaurants and the public through marketing, events and travel packages. Why was it so important for Eat NOLA Noir to create and bring into fruition Black Restaurant Week?
Erica Durousseau: “Eat NOLA Noir – Back Restaurant Week is important because we’ve made so many contributions to the food experience in New Orleans, and we still are. Our impact on the food industry here is tremendous and highlighting those facts can help us understand the history and culture of our food in New Orleans, and also drive business to these smaller restaurants who work really hard to keep the doors open. Often times, it’s not about whether or not you have the best food. If you don’t have a prime location, or money for an extensive marketing campaign, your restaurant will simply go unnoticed. Eat NOLA Noir was designed to change that. This movement creates a citywide marketing campaign, pooling all the resources of our minority-owned food and beverage industry businesses together, and build awareness for business owners who may not have the budget to invest into radio, print and media outreach. And, you get to try delicious food that you’ve never tried before! There are OVER 60+ minority-owned restaurants in our city, and those are just the ones I’ve found. As we continue to grow and spread the message, our goal is to uncover all the hidden gems in the food industry and give minority restaurants the coverage and recognition they deserve.”
DNW: Restaurants are a huge tourist attraction to the City. Black restaurants help churn the revenue generating machine, but do they get a fair seat at the table for business incentives, publicity and other things pertinent to their growth and longevity?
ED: “It varies for different establishments. Our city is all about connectivity. Some of the minority-owned restaurants are really just flying below the radar, and some have built a rich history on providing authentic New Orleans food that has created its own reputation. Dooky Chase’s is a staple of New Orleans culture. Their work in the community and their commitment to connecting people of all nationalities through food and activism has built their vast platform and they have become a household name. Willie Mae’s Scotch House made a national impact with signature recipes that have garnered the attention of food critics across the country, so they’ve carved their path through hard work, and maintaining traditions throughout generations. Newer restaurants that we’ve never heard of or are not located in prime locations tend to go unnoticed, unless they are making the investment into building a solid audience. I don’t think the lack of publicity and the shortage of tourism revenue to these restaurants are by design. If there’s anything we have learned from our past and present, it’s that we must do the work and tell our own stories. New Orleans Restaurant Week is a perfect example of harnessing your own strength and creating your own dialogue. Eat NOLA Noir was created to tell our stories, to create our own seat at the table. Responsibility is a huge part of growth and longevity. So, we have to take responsibility for our establishments remaining open and viable. Support from our communities and the entire city is required.”
DNW: Until I visited your website, I didn’t realize that there were so many Black restaurants in the City of New Orleans, spanning all types of global cuisine. What can the public do to become more aware of and in turn more supportive of our Black restaurants?
ED: “Aren’t there so many?! When I first started doing this work, it was shocking to uncover a new minority-owned establishment that I didn’t know about. And like many people, if it’s not brought to the forefront, then it’s easy to miss. I would encourage people of the city to visit our website directory and check out all the minority-owned food and beverage industry related businesses. There’s even a quick form to help us identify restaurants we may not have come across just yet. I would also encourage folks to make the commitment to supporting these restaurants, even if it’s lunch once a month, patronizing a food truck for family takeout night, or booking a minority-owned catering company for your next event. There’s enough room for everyone.”
DNW: This is your second year in existence; how have you grown?
ED: “Our first year was a whirlwind of experiences and fact finding. After developing the idea, we realized that the need of these businesses stretched a lot further than the 10-day time span we carved our for “Black Restaurant Week”. We also realized that our campaign had to be different from other cities. Outsiders have come in and tried to rewrite what we do, generating money for themselves by building a quick one-day centered around major events in the city, and walking away with the majority of the sponsorship dollars. As we grew, we knew we had to focus on individual relationships with the people we want to help and create year-round experiences for the people of New Orleans to keep the movement top of mind. Our growth included adding “Pop-Up Noir”, a pop-up series to highlight private chefs, or chefs who may be working in someone else’s kitchen, but need some exposure to branch out. We also held our very first “Shake & Stir” Bartender Competition which gave bartenders a platform as well. This year Seven-Three Distilling Co. has partnered with us to keep the momentum going. We have several pop-ups planned this year, including “Eat Shop Network”, a partnership with The HBCU Effect (www.thehbcueffect.org), which will take place at Vyoone’s Restaurant, a Black female owned restaurant, during Essence Music Festival. Our Second Annual “Shake & Stir” Bartender Competition is coming in June, along with our “Dinner Club Series”, which aims to sell out every seat in restaurants we travel to on a monthly basis. I think we’ve grown quite a bit!”
DNW: Who are some of your major sponsors and what is your vision for the future of Eat NOLA Noir and Black Restaurant Week?
ED: “Right now, we ARE our major sponsors! Our restaurants invest in their own campaign. We’ve stepped up to help ourselves and I think that’s amazing. As I mentioned, Seven-Three Distilling Co. is a local distillery that has partnered with us to produce programming and events people will enjoy. We have several major partnerships in the pipeline, so as we continue to grow and expand, we’ll be able to share the news with the general public. For the moment, I’m so proud that we have been able to do the work ourselves, despite the absence of major sponsors. We’ve persevered through counterproductive criticism and doubtful thinking to foster a meaningful campaign that people actually benefit from. It’s the grassroots way of doing it in New Orleans, and we’re proud!”
For more info on Eat NOLA Noir, Black Restaurant Week and a list of Black-owned restaurants, log onto our website at: www.ladatanews.com