Photo Credit: Adrienn
Chicago Black Restaurant Week Aims To Empower Black Business Owners
When Lauran Smith created Chicago Black Restaurant Week in 2015, she had every intention of shining a spotlight on some of the best, most underrated eateries amongst the city’s Black community. Seven years later, CBRW is still thriving despite restaurants being negatively affected by the pandemic.
A self-proclaimed foodie, Smith was inspired to start CBRW by her love for food and her love for Black culture. The event is taking place across Chicago now through February 20, and features 41 Black-owned restaurants.
“I love food, everybody loves food,” Smith said. “So I thought ‘why don’t I try to do something that is centered around African American cuisine?’”
The annual event rose to popularity after Smith strategically grew the brand’s social media pages. When the pandemic began, Smith continued to use social media to bring awareness to the event knowing that most people would be spending more time online while quarantined.
“Once people started to realize that our lives were going to be turning into a digital atmosphere, they had to adjust to the times,” she said. “Since this is my background, let me start it where everybody is anyway.”
Although some restaurants and Black-owned small businesses struggled in 2021, Smith and CBRW were prepared to support them by waiving last year’s registration fees and extending the event an extra week to bring more attention to participating restaurants. Smith continued the two-week theme in 2022 and hopes the extra week brings more customers to local food joints.
“2021 was really the truest of the after-effects of the pandemic that came about in 2020, so a lot of restaurants were suffering. They had to let people go, and they weren’t getting the volume that they normally would have,” she said. “So I said let me extend and see how much more help I would be able to give people if we had it just a little bit longer.”
Despite the pandemic, CBRW is growing more than ever before. The event has partnered with Uber Eats and has a banner displayed in the app promoting participating restaurants. As momentum for the event increases, Smith hopes to continue being a resource for small business owners in the community and, even though event registration declined this year, she has no doubts about the impact the event is having on Chicagoland.
“Even though I have less participants, you have to think about the fact that it’s not about numbers,” she said. “For me, it’s not about numbers. I want to help people.”
With over a week left in this year’s event, Smith hopes patrons visiting CBRW are refreshed by the diversity and allure of Black food in the Chicago area, and that they find a new restaurant to experience with their families and friends.
“I want people to venture out and go into some other neighborhoods and try some different things. Find a new favorite.”
After years of success with CBRW, Smith plans to continue the annual tradition of hosting the event during the second week of February to honor Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who started Negro History Week in 1926 during the same week. Her desire to support small business owners shines bright in all she does, and she plans to continue doing so in future events and projects.
“Because of the way these businesses have been supported, a lot of them have been able to expand and open up different locations,” said Smith. “A lot of them are still able to feed their families and send their kids to college. It’s about more than just going to eat.”
For more information, visit www.chiblackrestaurantweek.com.