WHAT IT IS: Chicago Black Restaurant Week is a week-long event designed to celebrate amazing food and beverage businesses, owned by African Americans in our community. Founded in the Summer of 2015 by Lauran Smith (native Memphian), she decided that African American businesses needed their own week of support, allowing everyone to get a chance to taste the goodness in the community, where these businesses will share discounts on items of their choosing.
WHY IT IS: In 1926, Dr Carter G Woodson created “Negro History Week,” which fell during the second week of February – to celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans in History. In 1976, the month of February became Black History Month. While the Designer was busy creating this annual event, she decided to honor Dr. Woodson’s initial legacy by placing CBRW during the second week in February!
WHERE IT IS: CBRW is held at various registered African American owned restaurants throughout the city and suburbs of Chicago, and a list of all participating businesses can be found on the event website (chiblackrestaurantweek.com), as well as the various social media channels associated with the week. Follow the food train on Facebook & Instagram (@officialchicagobrw), and also via Twitter (@chicagobrw).
In search of African American representation in the annual Chicago Restaurant Week (and not being satisfied with what she found), Black business enthusiast Lauran Smith decided to feature Black-owned restaurants in a week of her own, Chicago Black Restaurant Week (CBRW).
Launched in February 2016 by Smith, CBRW, now in its third year, strives to create a platform for Black-owned eateries to be recognized, celebrated, and most importantly patronized. CBRW participating eateries hail from the city’s South suburbs to the South, West, and North side neighborhoods. Smith made certain to clarify CBRW is not exclusive to restaurants; in fact, businesses that specialize in desserts among others are also included. She said she strategically planned for CBRW to fall on the second week of February – this year Feb. 11-18 – in an effort to honor Dr. Carter G. Woodson who created “Negro History Week” in 1926, which would later become Black History Month.
“Even though there are some Black businesses that do participate in Restaurant Week which is fine because I love Chicago Restaurant Week, I still feel that we as a people deserve our own week,” said Smith.
This year more than 20 restaurants are registered and confirmed to participate. The first year of CBRW featured 17 restaurants. According to CBRW’s website, last year 904 dinners were served and $12,789 was spent.
Supporting Black-owned businesses isn’t just an effort reserved for Black History Month but rather a lifestyle for Smith.
“I want to make sure that I am pouring my money back into my community because I want the community to last for our children and our children’s children so whatever I can do to support our community and grow our community, that’s what I always try to do,” said Smith.
Looking ahead to next year, Smith is hoping to attract the attention of local celebrities like Chance The Rapper or even President Barack Obama to participate in CBRW. The planning phase for CBRW begins at the end of July/start of August each year by updating all of the social media platforms, changing the dates on sponsorship packages, and more.
The growing success of CBRW has not been met without resistance, however. Smith had to defend her brand from a local company she said attempted to not only steal her logo but take credit for CBRW altogether. Meanwhile, a select number of groups criticized Smith for not launching a “White Restaurant Week” or other weeks highlighting different ethnicities/communities.
“I heard people of other ethnicities say, ‘well, we don’t have Polish Restaurant Week’ and so my response is that is not up to me,” said Smith. “If you want to create something like that, it’s up to you but I am going to support the community that I come from.”
For a full guide to participating businesses for Chicago Black Restaurant Week: www.chiblackrestaurantweek.com