For the fourth year in a row, Philadelphia restaurants participated in Black Restaurant Week, an event that promotes Black-owned restaurants and culinary businesses in the city.
Philadelphia business owners said that participating in the event, which lasted from June 4 to June 13, has helped them start recovering from the effects of the pandemic. They said they hope that it will put their restaurants on more solid footing as the city eases COVID-19 dining restrictions.
Owner of Star Fusion Express Darlene Jones, who has participated in Black Restaurant Week since it started operating in Philadelphia, said that this year she saw a surge in customers, which she embraced after a year of financial uncertainty. Star Fusion Express — which has two locations in Philadelphia — blends American, Caribbean, and Thai cuisines and is "known for its variety of 17 types of chicken wings, seven kinds of spring rolls, and seafood mac and cheese," according to its website.
“The pandemic left us unclear about our future, but organizations like Black Restaurant Week are a huge help,” Jones said. “Many times, small neighborhoods don’t get a lot of exposure, so this is helpful for any restaurant that doesn’t get a lot of traffic to their neighborhood.”
Tiya Robinson, the owner of Chef Tiya’s Poppin’ Pineapples, said that the ongoing vaccine rollout and the city easing restrictions have helped her business to recover from the economic effects of the pandemic. She added that she was excited to have more people try her food now that it is safer to do so.
“When the virus first started, there was a lot of change, but now — with everything turning around —it’s going in a positive direction,” Robinson said. “More people are coming out, so I’m very hopeful that we’re going up in positive ways.”
Chef Tiya's Poppin' Pineapples is a catering company that serves seafood dishes, like lobster and barbecue salmon, inside of pineapples.
Owner of Brotherly Grub Tanesha Trippett said that her business is still recovering from the financial effects of the pandemic, but continues to grow slowly. Brotherly Grub is described as a "southern café with a northern flair paired with Spanish influence," according to its website, serving dishes like Philly cheesesteaks, shrimp and grits, and chicken and waffles.
Trippett added that high vaccination rates across the city have caused more people to become excited about going to restaurants such as Brotherly Grub during Black Restaurant Week.
For some restaurants, Black Restaurant Week is the first time that they are able to serve food without COVID-19 restrictions in place. Many restaurants, like the food truck Sooo Trucking Delicious, owned by Aminah McDaniel and Angel King, opened shortly before the city went into lockdown. McDaniel said that it was difficult operating last year following the truck's opening in March 2020. Since then, the truck's sales have increased tremendously, in part because of Black Restaurant Week.
The truck, located in Southwest Philadelphia, serves soul food such as jerk shrimp and pineapple rice and beans, according to the Black Restaurant Week website.
McDaniel said that she enjoyed being a part of the event, saying that she was excited to see the Philadelphia Black community— as well as people from other states — coming out to support her business. She said that typical restaurant weeks focus on high-end restaurants, so she was glad to participate in one that showcased neighborhood restaurants.
Jennifer Smith, the CEO of Imperial Caribbean & Seafood, said her restaurant also opened during the pandemic in September 2020. The restaurant, located at 42nd and Lancaster, serves items like honey jerk chicken and a Dungeness crab platter, according to the Black Restaurant week website.
Smith said that although opening during the pandemic was risky, she could not pass up the opportunity and that there was an incredible amount of support from her community, with people coming in from as far as Atlantic City to try her food.
Smith said her experience with Black Restaurant Week — both last year and this year— has helped to jump-start her business.
“We had to make it or break it while businesses around us were closing up,” Smith said. “Black Restaurant Week did whatever it took to expose us to our local community, as well as those beyond. It really made a difference for us as a new restaurant in the area.”
Besides her own business, Smith said that it was amazing to see other Black restaurants getting business and exposure as well.
Ilisha Sampson also opened her restaurant Frannie Nicks in 2020. Frannie Nicks, located on 8th and Christian Streets, is a soul food restaurant that serves dishes such as chicken wings, macaroni and cheese, and shrimp alfredo pasta. Sampson said that her first year in business has been difficult, but Black Restaurant Week has helped tremendously. Sampson said she enjoys getting to interact with more people now that they are coming out to her restaurant more frequently.
“I was knocked down but it was a good experience looking back and knowing that I made it,” Sampson said. “I’m glad to still be able to support my community.”