Black Restaurant Week starts this weekend. Here’s who’s participating in the Triangle.

Drew Jackson
·3 min read

As diners are looking for more ways to support Black-owned businesses, a national Black Restaurant Week is expanding to the Triangle.

From Friday, April 23 through Sunday, May 2, a collection of Raleigh and Durham restaurants will take part in Black Restaurant Week, a campaign formed in 2016 to raise awareness of Black-owned restaurants. The expansion is called “No Crumb Left Behind.” Unlike most restaurant weeks, it waives participation fees this year.

Among the Triangle participants are Alpha Dawg, Big C Waffles, Bon Fritay, Boricua Soul, The Chicken Hut, Mike D’s BBQ, Pure Soul, Sweetheart Treats and Zweli’s Kitchen & Catering.

As restaurants join, the list may expand. The full list can be found here: blackrestaurantweeks.com/carolinas-directory

Some of the restaurants are running special menus for the week, some are aiming to introduce their regular menu to new diners.

Black Restaurant Week started in Houston in 2016, formed by Derek Robinson, Warren Luckett and Falayn Ferrell. The existing restaurant week model sometimes left Black-owned businesses out, Robinson said, particularly the food trucks and caterers. He said Black Restaurant Week was started largely to shine a light on these businesses.

“Traditionally, there was some oversight of these great culinary talents within restaurant weeks,” Robinson said. “This is just an opportunity for us to highlight these great culinary businesses and shine within their own community.”

Hardships from the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic hurt all restaurants, but Robinson said Black-owned restaurants often faced additional hardships, such as difficulty securing Paycheck Protection Program loans. He pointed to a University of California at Santa Cruz study reporting Black business ownership dropped 41% during the pandemic, as more than 400,000 businesses closed.

“Everyone has struggled to pivot and stay relevant (during COVID),” Robinson said. “I’m proud of the industry as a whole for pivoting in these times.”

Zweli’s in Durham serves a half chicken with a side of collard greens cooked with peanut butter and Jollof rice.
Zweli’s in Durham serves a half chicken with a side of collard greens cooked with peanut butter and Jollof rice.

Last year, following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and national protests against racial injustice, there was a push for greater support of Black-owned businesses, including restaurants. The News & Observer compiled a list of dozens of Black-owned businesses in the Triangle.

Last year, the Black Farmers Market, a Triangle group organizing Black farmers, food purveyors and makers, became enormously popular, with lines often stretching for blocks. The next farmers market is Sunday, April 25 from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at the YMCA at 1436 Rock Quarry Rd. in Raleigh.

Robinson said demand has grown over the past five years to expand Black Restaurant Week to other markets. It is now in Atlanta and the Bay Area and for the first time, the Carolinas, including cities like Charlotte, Raleigh and Durham in North Carolina and Columbia in South Carolina.

A good showcase

Leonardo Williams has been one of the vocal leaders within the Durham restaurant community throughout the pandemic. He and his wife Zweli own and operate Zweli’s Kitchen, possibly the country’s only Zimbabwean restaurant.

Williams said the restaurant had skipped other restaurant week formats in the past due to fees and menu rules, but felt Black Restaurant Week was a good showcase for Zweli’s.

“(Other restaurant weeks) bring you a structure you must adhere to that usually isn’t in favor of our normal functionality,” Williams said. “This is more of an awareness campaign. There’s no fee to sign up and they said we can do whatever we want.”

Zweli’s will serve a special menu, as well as its regular menu, focusing on the restaurant’s most popular and representative dishes. The special menu will include oxtail, piri piri chicken, samosas and peanut butter collard greens.

“We’re going to do straight Zimbabwean,” Williams said. “We’re trying to put ourselves on showcase.”