Gastronomes will be pleased to know The Madison Black Chamber of Commerce (MBCoC) is promoting the third annual Black Restaurant Week, which runs until this upcoming Sunday, August 19th, as a way of actively supporting Black businesses.
Organizer Milele Chikasa Anana describes the event as “a bold statement that black business owners are an asset to the local Madison community,” while MBCoC President Camille Carter says the event is one of the first of its kind in the country.
“Madison is a foodie town, and certainly we have a lot of programs that highlight restaurants and we have restaurant week, and very different varieties, but nothing that included our [black] entrepreneurs,” Carter says. “So this was in our effort to focus on the work and the food that is brought specifically within our niche, and therefore Black Restaurant Week was born.”
Featuring twenty-six restaurants, food carts, and caterers drawing upon African, Caribbean, and soul food traditions, this year’s theme is “authentic food,” which seems to always be in demand.
For example, after health issues forced her to close a restaurant in 20-16, Melly Mell’s owner Carmell Jackson’s soul food catering services were booked within two weeks of being offered.
“Today I did an event for the UW that had greens, smoked turkey, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, [and] things like that,” Jackson shares. “It’s just from my childhood. It’s just like my mother used to make, and her mother used to make. It’s authentic soul food; no cans, everything fresh. So basically that’s what people are looking for. They want the soul food, the candied yams, the greens, and all that that is associated with soul food. Soul food is really from the soul, it’s comfort food that you were brought up to.”
Despite periodic ebbs and flows in patronage, Martin Deacon has owned and managed the successful Jamerica Caribbean Restaurant on Willy Street since 19-96.
“It’s very interesting how things change by the month, the year, and such like that, but I discover in this area’s it’s very diverse, and I have people from all parts of the world come through the city,” Deacon says. “They check the website or hear about the restaurant [and] they want to try the menu. Not only people from the Caribbean, but Americans and everybody just fall into the menu.”
Jamerica will have a brown-stew chicken special, but those following vegetarian diets won’t have to take a cheat day to enjoy the week’s flavorful offerings.
Deacon’s own Jamerica menu features jerk, barbeque, curried, and mango rundown tofus, the last of which Isthmus’s Cheryl Breur named as one of five tofu dishes to win over those who may have had a bad past experience with the oft-maligned bean curd.
This year’s Black Restaurant Weeks is in memoriam for the late Rod Ladson, the former executive chef of Bonefish Grill who passed away last month.
During a phone conversation, 100 Black Men of Madison’s President Floyd Rose and friend of Ladson said, quote, “Rod lived by the maxim that if you treat people right, they will come.”
New to Black Restaurant Week this year is the event’s partnership with FUDU, a local startup that offers FUDUworks, a food delivery service app for office employees.
Readers may learn more about Black Restaurant Week by downloading the MBCoC’s flyer here.