Lauran Smith, the founder of Chicago Black Restaurant Week (CBRW), is in her sixth year of showcasing and advocating support for Black-owned restaurants in Chicago. CBRW began in the summer of 2015 when Lauran decided to pursue her desire to provide Black food/beverage/dessert businesses their “own space” to feature their cuisine. She recognized a need for this kind of event with the continued lack of Black restaurants featured in Chicago Restaurant Week. CBRW started as a week-long event held the second full week in February during Black History Month.
A year ago, the pandemic forced a devasting number of Black restaurants to either limit operations and hours or, even worse, permanently shut down. While some dining establishments were able to pivot and bounce back, many still struggled to sustain and maintain their businesses. The tireless and honorable efforts that Lauran has put in CBRW are vital to breaking generational wealth gaps in the Black community and ensuring Black businesses, particularly restaurants, continue to thrive ‘in and out of season.’ This year, CBRW has a significant number of new restaurants and partnerships. Lauran took the time to share with the Defender what’s on tap this year and what Chicagoans and beyond have to look forward to with this year’s CBRW event.
With the uncertainty of whether the city is opening back up soon for dine-in, what are your plans for CBRW? [Disclaimer: At the time of this question, city officials had not determined their decision on reopening city restaurants.]
Based on the news, it seems that the Mayor is looking to reopen “dine-in” options on a semi-regular state of operations. My plans, however, for CBRW included customers being able to STILL order from these businesses for delivery, pick-up, etc. Now, with dine-in options, making sure we continue to operate within the restrictions set by city and state officials.
We know why you started this event. Tell us why it is more important NOW than ever that Black restaurants are showcased and supported by the community and beyond?
Businesses HAD NO CHOICE BUT to shut down – we are still in the middle of a pandemic, and although the numbers of COVID cases are dropping, we are far from being “back to normal.” Black businesses have suffered tremendously, and I only want to help them to recover from their losses! CBRW was always going to happen; it was just going to happen in a way that aligns with what our political officials have deemed necessary to keep down the contraction and spread of this virus.
How many restaurants are on the CBRW list this year, and is there still time to participate?
We have 50+ businesses registered for CBRW this year, which is an increase from last year.
[Update: as of 2/4/21, Lauran announced on CBRW’s Facebook page that she has close 100 Black restaurants registered.]
Any exciting news to share? New partnerships?
This year, we extended CBRW to two weeks. It will run from Sunday, February 7 through Sunday, February 21, 2021. We have plenty of new restaurants registered, which our social media and the website will reflect. This year, we were honored to receive phone calls from both Uber Eats and My Block, My Hood, My City to help amplify our message of Black businesses’ support! They are just as dedicated to the goal of supporting Black businesses as I am, and it was a shocker and a blessing to be recognized in this way.
One of the reasons many restaurants struggled is that they did not or could not offer delivery services. This Uber Eats partnership is indeed a game-changer as many CBRW-participating restaurants can now offer delivery. For example, Afro Joe’s Coffee & Tea, located on the southside, 8344 South Halsted, was ecstatic to be a part of CBRW. “Because of Lauran and CBRW, we are now a part of Uber Eats and can expand our reach all across the city,” says owners Kendall and Aisha. Follow them and view their CBRW specials on Instagram (@afrojoes).
Last year, you told us that you have an accountability book for Black women and a clothing line coming out soon. Any updates on those projects?
My accountability journal will take a little more time to complete because there are so many interactive parts in the journal for EACH day – but self-discovery and that inner work is not something that you can “gloss over” – it’s also interactive! The clothing line is still in the build-out process; HOWEVER, I will be offering hoodies for purchase via the CBRW brand!
On January 20, 2021, we saw Black women, center stage, in leadership, stand in front of the world with poise and elegance – united and loving on each other. How were you inspired by Kamala Harris, Michelle Obama, Andrea Hall, and Amanda Gorman’s brilliance and melanin excellence?
I was alive to see ALL of this unfold, and it was simply amazing. Madame Vice President Kamala Harris and I have a beautiful thing in common – we are BOTH women of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., so being “first” is simply a lifestyle. She is the first WOMAN VP ever to exist…THE FIRST – that alone is huge. For her to be a woman of color only means that she makes the road a bit easier for those coming behind her.
How are you breaking glass ceilings in this industry?
I don’t ask for permission. CBRW was a need for our community, and I didn’t have to ask another entity for permission to “let us in.” I decided to create the lane myself because we deserve our special spotlight. I love when businesses who have participated tell me things like, “I was able to triple my profits during the week of CBRW” – that is another business that can continue feeding their families and funding their future!
Please share some encouraging words specifically for women entrepreneurs.
For Women Entrepreneurs: You are not fair to your “genius” when you sit on a gift. Self-care comes in many forms, and one form is to nurture what is in you, knowing that you can be successful. I never once said that any of this was a simple process – but I promise you it’s fulfilling and always worth trying.
Please share encouraging words for Black entrepreneurs.
Be honest with yourself when it comes to entrepreneurship. Are you willing to put in whatever work is required? Are you doing this out of pure passion, or is this just another means to an end? What is your ultimate end goal? You must be able to answer serious questions about your level of dedication and your willingness to go the long-haul.
CBRW kick-off, February 7, is just in time for football fans and foodies to get their grub on for the Super Bowl. Follow Chicago Black Restaurant Week on Facebook and Instagram, @officialchicagobrw. For a full list of participating restaurants visit the CBRW Website https://chiblackrestaurantweek.com/2021-cbrw-participants/
Contributor Kim Durden is a food writer and owner of Divine Dine Food Tours and DivinE320, an online marketplace featuring themed and custom gift boxes. She also has a blog called Simply Divine.