February came to a close on Monday, and with that so did Black History Month. The month-long annual recognition of African Americans prompted organizers earlier in the month to launch the very first Chicago Black Restaurant Week. The inaugural event lasted Feb. 7 though Feb. 13 and drew 17 black-owned restaurants as participants. Organizers called the event a success and are already planning for its return in 2017.
Jumping on the success of other week-long events like Chicago Restaurant Week and others (Chicago French Restaurant Week, for example), the roster for CBRW 2016 included Haire's Gulf Shrimp, Mikkey's Retro Grill and the Jerk Taco Lady. Social media consultant Lauran Smith spearheaded the event, and she said it's pegged again next year for the second week of February. Smith answered a few questions about the success of the event, which aimed to promote business for black-owned restaurants, an ownership group that often struggles receiving media coverage and other attention that can lead to customers.
What are some of the takeaways of organizing the first-ever Chicago Black Restaurant Week? What did you learn?
Lauran Smith: One major takeaway from the first CBRW would be that there were so many people grateful for the week, and were actually shocked that so many restaurants in their area [exist] that they pass by daily. I was excited to learn that people now have a "new favorite" or "new favorites." One thing that I learned is that there is a serious desire for people to support community efforts, and they were eager for next year's week.
What was the overall response, and what are you doing for CBRW 2017? More restaurants? Do you have a date or time in mind?
The response was amazing. People were very excited, and they loved the fact that their pictures were reposted to the social media sites, so they wanted to be involved to see themselves on social media. There will be plenty of new things happening for CBRW 2017, so I can't really get into it, but we do plan to add additional restaurants, and have actually been solicited by a few who would love to register. CBRW 2017 will be the second week in February, as it will always be.
There are some folks who say they don't know why CBRW is needed. What's your response, how do you bring them toward your thinking?
It's okay you don't understand the need, but as long as I understand the need and the reasoning behind why I do anything, that's all that matters. Not only that, it is just my way of supporting some of what my community has to offer to the world. And they should also know that no one is against them wanting to supporting their community in the way that they see fit. They can start their own festivals, etc. The only way to bring them toward my thinking is to encourage them to do something of their own.
What did the restaurants get from this?
The restaurants received new business, and new regulars. They also received great reviews and quite a few large party reservations during CBRW.
How satisfied are you with CBRW and what changes do you anticipate?
I am extremely satisfied with the week because it received so much media attention, and so many positive reviews. It was also satisfying because the featured restaurants were highlighted and it brought them more business. Changes? We will start registration earlier than we did this year, and we will add additional promo materials for everyone to be able to purchase, if they so desire.
Does geography or specific neighborhood matter to you when soliciting participants? You later added Luella's Southern Kitchen to the mix, but Luella's was the only North Side restaurant on the list.
Geography does not matter to me; I want to be able to support as many eateries as possible by getting them the exposure that they deserve. So I am not going to focus on one specific community, no. I'm going to keep it as inclusive as possible for years to come.