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Black Restaurant Week Launches First Campaign in Denver, Running March 17-26

The signature dish at TK’s Surf and Turf Kitchen, one of several participating restaurants.
The signature dish at TK’s Surf and Turf Kitchen, one of several participating restaurants. TK’s Surf and Turf Kitchen
“Years ago, if you were to ask me [to] name five Black-owned restaurants in Houston, I probably would have struggled,” says Falayn Ferrell, co-founder and managing director of Black Restaurant Week. “Now someone asks, I’m like, ‘Well, what side of town are you on? What type of food do you want?’ It’s an empowering conversation.”

Ferrell and two colleagues, Warren Luckett and Derek Robinson, established Black Restaurant Week in Houston in 2016. Although the event has appeared in the Southwest region since 2020, this year it's launching its inaugural event in Denver, March 17-26. So far, more than a dozen Black-owned eateries have signed on, including Mattie's Soul Food Bar & Lounge, Konjo Ethiopian Food, MyKings Ice Cream, and Taste Bud Bullies food truck.

“Most of the businesses that participate in our campaign [are] naturally affordable,” says Ferrell. She ties this to the history of Black Restaurant Week, explaining, “Houston has a really robust culinary scene, as well as a very big Houston Restaurant Week campaign. But we realized a lot of businesses in our community didn’t really fit that business model of fine dining. We have a lot more fast-casual restaurant concepts in our community.

“Many businesses in our community are smaller, and so they don’t really have the financial resources to invest in big marketing campaigns," Ferrell continues. She notes that registering to participate in Black Restaurant Week is completely free and available at any time, even after the start of a regional campaign.

“Food trucks, bakeries, restaurants — they all do well within the campaign,” Ferrell says, adding that even farmer's market stands have participated. “The one requirement we have is that there is Black ownership in the business.”
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The Black-owned TeaLee's Teahouse captures the spirit of the Five Points neighborhood.
TeaLee's Teahouse & Bookstore
Black Restaurant Week is also flexible on location, allowing establishments like Luchals in Colorado Springs, Endless Grind Coffee in Aurora and Outworld Brewing in Longmont to participate. Eateries also have autonomy on how they engage in the program. Some, like TeaLee's Teahouse & Bookstore, are offering limited-time menu items.

“TeaLee's special offering will include a vegan crab cake on a bun and [an] eleven-spice-rubbed chicken salad,” says cafe owner Risë Jones. She describes the entirety of its menu as being “tea-centric,” with salad dressings, scones and main dishes infused with tea. The same applies to its signature Purple Rain cocktail, featuring house-infused vodka with blue butterfly pea tea, lavender-rosemary syrup and lemon. Jones adds, “If you mention Black Restaurant Week, your cup of tea will be on the house.”

TK’s Surf and Turf Kitchen will also provide guests a discount, offering 10 percent off two or more orders of its best seller, The Works. Featuring snow crab clusters, shrimp, lobster tail, beef sausage and two hearty sides, the dish went viral on TikTok after @denverfoodscene gave the restaurant a shout-out.

“TK’s Surf and Turf Kitchen is unique because we’re Colorado’s first Black-owned seafood restaurant, and we opened in the midst of the pandemic, in October of 2020,” says owner and chef Tyler Kanwai. Although internet fame helped to bolster his eatery, not all restaurants have been as fortunate in recent years.

“There are a lot of small businesses that are still in recovery mode from the pandemic,” says Ferrell. She mentions the hardships caused by labor shortages, food supply-chain issues and inflation, and that Black Restaurant Week aims to support these businesses’ survival. The program’s other key goal is to build awareness.

“Food is a cultural, historical representation of who we are and our culinary contribution to America and the world,” says Jones, whose teahouse captures these aspects of the Five Points neighborhood. “If you go to any African-American restaurant in America, you would accumulate a series of stories about the region, recipes and people who influence what's cookin’ in the kitchen,” she adds.

At a young age, Jones, Kanwai and Ferrell were all exposed to the cultural significance of food. Jones says, “TeaLee's is dedicated and named after my paternal grandmother, Evelyn ‘T-Lee’ Jones, whose home was warm, conversational, and a place to get good home-cooked food.”
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Tyler Kanwai, owner of Colorado’s first Black-owned and family-operated seafood restaurant.
TK’s Surf and Turf Kitchen
Kanwai adds, “The man who raised me was a chef by profession, so I studied under him, and I’ve been cooking ever since I was allowed to turn the stove on as a child. Amos Harris III passed away back in 2011, yet his spirit lives on through me as I’ve adopted some of his recipes and added my own twist. Our butter ‘secret sauce’ we use for a lot of our seafood and protein options [is] the same recipe I grew up eating seafood with.”

Ferrell’s father was an executive chef whose family owned Bennie Ferrell Catering, which operated for around sixty years. She explains, “He never really wanted to own a restaurant, but that showed me the diversity of the culinary space. It’s bigger than restaurants. It’s really a whole community, and what can we do to bring a voice to everyone within that community?” Ferrell says this largely inspired her involvement in Black Restaurant Week, and jokes, “It’s a way to carry on the family legacy without having to be in the kitchen.”

“We do fifteen campaigns throughout the year,” says Ferrell. “We start in February, so this is our second campaign, and our season ends in November.” She explains that some campaigns encompass a region, whereas others are specific to major cities like New York and Atlanta. According to Ferrell, Black Restaurant Week showcased over 1,600 businesses across North America last year.

“You could always use our website like a directory. It’s really become this national resource for Black-owned culinary businesses,” Ferrell says, noting that BRW collects data when the restaurants register, and that users can filter search results by cuisine type, dining style and delivery service.

Black Restaurant Week also has an online retail selection from small food businesses with owners from marginalized groups. Vendors may be of Black, LatinX or Indigenous heritage, or identify as LGBTQIA+. Senior citizens, military combat veterans and hearing-, visual- or physically-challenged persons are also eligible to register for free. The À La Karte Shop currently features home goods, bottled sauces, teas and coffee, and aims to expand into kitchen gadgets, cookbooks and more.

Feed the Soul Foundation is another associated initiative. “Black Restaurant Week is the awareness factor. Feel the Soul steps in and really supports business development," Ferrel explains, adding that the foundation provides grants to marginalized businesses owners in addition to “training, consultation, and partnership with culinary experts from across the country,” per its website.

These various facets speak to Black Restaurant Week’s official campaign title, “More Than Just a Week.” “We’re not here today, gone tomorrow. We really like to be in communities year over year," Ferrell says. "It makes the campaign stronger, and more and more businesses start to find out.

“You’ll hear the restaurant owners also tap into that," she continues. "They’ll say, ‘Before I did Black Restaurant Week, I didn’t know there were other business owners like me literally down the street.’ And they start to network and build their own coalitions. It becomes this conversation where the businesses themselves don’t feel like they’re in this space alone.”

Kanwai agrees: “Participating in Black Restaurant Week gives participating restaurant owners across the U.S. a sense of identity.”
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