US consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of where and how they spend their money. With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting black-owned small businesses particularly hard, more people across the country want to support small businesses in Black communities.
So how can you continue to support Black-owned restaurants in your community, both as a consumer or as a fellow restaurant owner? We spoke to Upserve by Lightspeed customer Sim Walker, owner of Atlanta restaurants Ms. Icey’s and Apt 4B (which opened during the pandemic), about his experience as a Black restaurant owner and his views on the recent surge of mainstream support. Read on to hear from Sim and learn more about black-owned restaurants in the US.
Black-owned Restaurant Spotlight: Sim Walker, Owner, Ms. Icey’s and Apt 4B
Walker grew up in the restaurant industry under the guidance of his mother, Marva Layne. She opened her first business, a pastry shop called Sweetie Pies, in New York City when Walker was in second grade. From there, Layne opened her first full-service restaurant, a 40-seat location called Island Spice, and eventually her third and current location, Negril Village, which she’s owned and operated in New York City’s Theater District for over 20 years.
Throughout his early life, Walker worked with his mother at all three locations in nearly every role, from taking orders to bussing and dishwashing, moving up to office and admin duties, nightlife management, and events as he got older. “I love to create spaces, I love to serve people,” said Walker, when asked why he’s stayed in the industry so long.“ “The real thing for me, that I learned a long time ago is our business is beyond just serving people and being a regular restaurant. We specialize in Caribbean food, and what we were doing is creating an outlet for Black and African American people to enjoy their culture.”
After leaving New York for Atlanta, Walker now owns and operates Ms. Icey’s and Apt 4B, both still Caribbean-inspired but with a twist. “I’m a second-generation Caribbean American from New York City living in the South. Ms. Icey’s is reflective of a subculture of Caribbean Americans; people that love oxtails, but also love fried chicken.” As for Apt 4B, Walker describes it as a “modern Caribbean restaurant and vinyl bar,” a concept based on the feeling of having friends over to your apartment to listen to music, and eat – a concept that is particularly challenging during a pandemic. But Walker and his partners are making it work and doing all they can to ensure their restaurants are around for the long haul.
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While Walker’s restaurants have a target demographic (as most restaurants do) he can’t help but notice that his patrons aren’t always reflective of the neighborhoods his restaurants are located in. “Negril Village, that has been in New York City for 20 years. The patronage of that restaurant is about 90% Black people. How could it be that they’re the only people coming into the restaurant? Are you telling me that there are not scores of people that want jerk chicken? I think it’s all part of race relations in America. If we gather in a space, I guess other people feel excluded or don’t feel invited, and for no other reason than there’s multiples of us gathered in the space.”
“What I hope is that people realize that you are welcomed to visit Black-owned restaurants. And I hope that they continue to visit, patronize, spend their dollars, and get that experience.” – Sim Walker
How to Support Black-owned Restaurants in Your Community
If non-Black people, and white folks in particular, want to truly support Black-owned restaurants so that there are more of them around for the long haul, overcoming this discomfort or feeling of “exclusion” that Walker mentioned, is a necessary first step. But what more can we do to use our privilege to support Black restaurant owners besides ordering takeout?
The reason why there is a disproportionate number of Black-owned restaurants and other Black-owned small businesses is due to systemic oppression – the opportunities and access to capital simply aren’t available to the Black community in the same ways white folks have access to these things. “My business may be lacking, or other businesses may be lacking in certain areas, just because we can’t afford to or don’t have access to the same resources that other people might have,” explains Walker. “There’s just so much that goes into it.”
As a patron, taking your support of Black-owned restaurants to the next level means getting educated and involved, and advocating for more equitable policies. If you are a fellow restaurant owner or chef, you’ll have an even larger platform to help uplift your colleagues.
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Lists of Black-owned Restaurants You Can Support by City and State
Below is a compilation of Black-owned restaurant lists that have been circulating through the mainstream since June of 2020. This is not a comprehensive list, so if you don’t see your state or town listed here, try searching for “Black-owned restaurants near me” to find restaurants in your area, or use an app like EatOkra or Black and Mobile. Any restaurants we missed? Tag us on social media!
Black-owned Restaurants in My City
- Los Angeles: Divine Dips, Sugar Jones, and Who’s Hungry are popular black-owned restaurants in LA to support. Click the link to find more close to you.
- Boston: Bred Gourment, Lucy Ethiopian Cafe, and M&M BBQ are popular Black-owned restaurants in Boston that you can support. Click the link to find more restaurants in Boston and the surrounding areas.
- Chicago: Taylors Tacos, Batter and Berries, and Luella’s Southern Kitchen are just a few of the Black-owned restaurants that Chicagoans love.
- New York City: From Paula’s Soul Food in the Bronx to Collective Fare in Brooklyn, there are over 250 Black-owned restaurants on this New York City list.
- Atlanta: Pit Boss BBQ, Atlanta Breakfast Club, and of course, Ms. Icey’s Kitchen & Bar are some of the Black-owned restaurants that Atlanta residents love.
Black-owned Restaurants by State
- Alabama: Birmingham, Auburn
- Arizona: Phoenix/Scottsdale/Tempe metro area
- California: Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area
- Colorado: Denver, Boulder
- Connecticut: Statewide
- Florida: Miami, Tampa Bay, Gainesville area
- Georgia: Atlanta
- Illinois: Chicago, or search via blackownedchicago.com
- Indiana: Indianapolis
- Kentucky: Louisville
- Louisiana: New Orleans, Shreveport-Bossier
- Maine: Portland
- Maryland: Baltimore
- Massachusetts: Boston, New Bedford/Southcoast
- Michigan: Detroit, Ann Arbor/Washtenaw County
- Missouri: St. Louis, Kansas City
- Minnesota: Twin Cities
- Nebraska: Omaha/Lincoln
- New Jersey: Jersey City, Hoboken, Central Jersey
- New York: All New York City, Brooklyn, Queens, Rochester, Buffalo, Westchester
- North Carolina: Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, Greensboro, Statewide
- Ohio: Cleveland, Columbus
- Oregon: Portland
- Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
- Rhode Island: Statewide
- South Carolina: Charleston, Columbia
- Tennessee: Nashville, Memphis
- Texas: Austin, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Coastal Bend/Corpus Christi/Rockport
- Virginia: Richmond, Charlottesville
- Washington: Seattle
- Washington DC
- Wisconsin: Milwaukee, Madison