It’s that time of year again! A local foodie’s paradise week and delightful, new dining experiences for the rest of us.
Memphis Black Restaurant Week (MBRW) 2018 started Monday, March 5 and runs through Sunday, March 11. And locals “foodies” get the opportunity to celebrate one of the city’s two legendary claims to fame—good music and good food.
Now in its third year, MBRW promotes eateries owned and operated by African Americans. Lauded not only for the vibrant spirit of diversity they lend to food tourism in West Tennessee, these establishments also help create jobs and boost the economies of their surrounding communities.
MBRW is the brainchild of Atlanta-born Cynthia Daniels, an entrepreneur who came to Memphis and became spellbound by the city’s culture.
“I came to Memphis and fell in love with the city,” said Daniels. “I moved here from Atlanta because I saw so much opportunity. Young people would complain about nothing really happening, but I look at things differently. If there is nothing to do, then there are so many opportunities to create.”
Here’s how it works: Each restaurant has special promotional menu items available only at MBRW’s website (www.blackrestaurantweek.com). Once you buy the meal online, you take your voucher to the restaurant to redeem it.
And MBRW has already proven to be big for participating eateries. First of all, many customers began patronizing the restaurants in February, well before the official promotion began. And once MBRW did officially kick off . . .
“A lot of them have been slammed,” Daniels said. “HM Dessert Lounge and Scoops Parlor, who have been with us from the beginning, both reported double the sales that they usually have on a Tuesday. And The Office@Uptown, which only does breakfast and lunch, they got slammed at 7 a.m.”
This year, there are 11 featured restaurants, representing a broad assortment of culinary fare — from vegan cuisine to fine dining, and everything in between. These impressive enterprises are almost as intriguing as some of their back stories:
Two Vegan Sistas. Dr. Gretta King and her actual biological sister, Belinda King, opened across from the Highway Patrol station at 6343 Summer Avenue. Dr. King has a Ph.D in chemistry and teaches part-time. She and Belinda have created more than 100 food items: burgers, pasta, Southern dishes.
“You’ll never miss the meat,” says Dr. King.
They cater and deliver — perfect for those who have toyed with the idea of giving up meat and meat products.
Scoops Parlor. Located at 106 G.E. Patterson Ave. and founded by QuaSheba and Terrance Callicutt, this ice cream paradise sits on the corner of Patterson at Main Street, across from the Amtrak Train Station. She is a speech therapist, and husband, Terrance, is a former firefighter-turned-paramedic, studying to become a nurse.
This is not your typical, run-of-the-mill ice cream shop. Create-your-own dessert crepes, gelato, and savory (meat and veggie) crepes will fill the bill for an unforgettable lunch or snack break.
For MBRW, Scoops is featuring a peach cobbler crepe and a Makeda’s Cookie Crepe. Makeda’s is a black-owned business not far from Scoops Parlor. In fact, Scoops Parlor had only been open for a month when they participated in the first MBRW in 2016. Now they’re old hands.
“We had to get ready real fast!” QuaSheba Callicut said of their first MBRW. “But there was so much love from the community to us. That built us up and we did our best to serve them well. We got good reviews, made a few changes and we’re still here, still participating.”
The Office @Uptown. Seated at 594 N. 2nd Street, The Office @Uptown is an oasis on “the other end” of 2nd Street. Designed to accommodate downtown employees, it opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Owned by the husband-wife team of Valerie Peavy and Jeff Harrison, regales patrons with breakfast croissant combinations and sandwich specials for lunch. It’s a recipe for The Office’s success that has brought them to their upcoming fifth anniversary on April 1.
“When we bought the building, we were doing renovations,” Peavey said. “ And what I found was that there wasn’t a place on this side of town where you could get soup, salad and a sandwich. And we thought it might work. So far, it has.”
Chef Tam’s Underground Café, is a respite for midtowners at 2299 Young Avenue. It opens on a swing shift – 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch, and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday.
G. Alston. The week is a boost for Chef Aryen-Moor Alston. Perhaps best known for “Sweet Potato Baby,” her catering company and appearances on TV cooking shows, Moore-Alston is all in on her new restaurant, “G. Alston,” at 8556 Macon Road in Cordova.
You could say that Moore-Alston, 35, was a dreamer from age five. Her mother, Karen Alston, was a great beauty who could not cook when she married Aryen’s father, Gary. He did all the cooking.
Little Aryen would stand on a chair to help “Daddy” cook. She watched and learned, watched and learned, and was cooking whole meals from the age of eight. Gary Alston passed away when Aryen was 11, but his legacy lives in “Chef Aryen.”
It’s fine dining at its finest. A soft opening was October 27, and Memphis Black Restaurant Week marks the official opening. G. Alston serves lunch from 11 a.m. — 2 p.m., and dinner from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
Lenny’s Subs (Two Locations): You might be thinking, “Why is Lenny’s on this list?” But these two Midtown locations — one on Cooper and the other on Poplar — are among six franchises owned by former FedEx exec Edith Kelly-Green.
“She asked me, ‘Why haven’t you approached me? Even as franchisees, we’re black owned,’” Daniels chuckled. “She was right, so we were happy to welcome two Midtown Lenny’s to the slate.”
“They’ve been slammed every day,” Daniels said. “It’s a lot of volume for them, and they’re still getting used to it.”
MBRW’s success over the first two years is what got the attention of the City of Memphis’ Office of Business Diversity and Compliance (OBDC). OBDC, a city department designed to bolster minority- and women-owned businesses, is a title sponsor for this year’s promotion, Daniels said.
“They reached out to me,” she said. “Just having OBDC on board helped us reach a broader audience that wasn’t aware of what we’re doing. That was really big for us.”
Daniels said that last year’s MBRW tallied about $175,000 in sales. This year, the goal is $400,000.
“We’re definitely on a good path,” she said.
For more information on Memphis Black Restaurant Week, visit www.blackrestaurantweek.com.
Lee Eric Smith and Johnathan Martin contributed to this story.