“I hope you’re hungry.”
That was the text I received when meeting Warren Luckett, the founder of Black Restaurant Week, a culinary event that has quickly exploded into six markets.
Of course, I was meeting Luckett for brunch at The Spice House in Southwest Atlanta on Cascade Road. And, of course, along with a gang of questions, I also brought a hearty appetite.
I’d only met Luckett the week before at the unofficial kick-off to Black Restaurant Week, a pop-up dinner at Parlor ATL in Castleberry Hill featuring Atlanta-based celebrity chef Erica Barrett.
Barrett, a Mobile, Alabama native who attended Clark Atlanta University, has been featured on Shark Tank, cooked for Oprah Winfrey and is making a huge imprint on the culinary goods industry with her brand of pancake mixes and chicken dredges.
For a motley crew of media personalities, Barrett, her mom and best friend Tie Cooper, entertained us with Southern charm and filled our bellies with a delectable fried green tomato seafood stack, featuring as its base a tangy remoulade, a perfectly fried green tomato slice, a corn salad with cherry tomatoes, a sumptuous lump crab cake topped with fresh arugula and Creole spiced shrimp.
“This is literally me on a place,” Barrett said in her deep Alabama accent. “I grew up by the water. This is the food I ate while I was growing up. This is who I am.”
To get an understanding of how Luckett conceived and brought to fruition the concept of restaurant week, the Houston native invited me to experience the most important component of the week itself, the Restaurant Week Showcase.
The Restaurant Week Showcase, which began on Sunday and extends the entire two weeks until Sept. 16.
For the two-week span, diners will enjoy pre-fixe fine dining menus for just $35 – $45 per person or casual dining menus for $15 – $25 per person from participating restaurants, including Ms. Icey’s Kitchen, Nana’s Restaurant and Café Songhai.
The Spice House is one of 14 restaurants that are offering various combinations of its menu at fixed prices for participants in Black Restaurant Week Atlanta, now in its second year. The 14 participating restaurants reflect a diverse selection of African, Caribbean, Creole, Cajun, Vegetarian, Seafood, Southern, and BBQ cuisine.
The Spice House, for the record, specializes in Caribbean cuisine.
Over mimosas and a plate of some of the most tender braised oxtails ladled over creamy, stone ground grits, Luckett and I chatted — or attempted to chat, rather — about not only how did Black Restaurant Week come about, but also how he chose Atlanta as one of the first cities he brought it to after he and his team perfected the concept in Houston.
When Warren Luckett conceived the idea to host a Black Restaurant Week in early 2016, he knew he couldn’t do it alone. After all, no one had done anything like it before.
He’d done the research. When he and his team sought to trademark the name, there were no additional filings. There were no links published online that laid claim to hosting an event like it.
Luckett’s filling was awarded the trademark. A Memphis Black Restaurant Week, founded by Atlanta native Cynthia Daniels, was grandfathered into the trademark filing because she’d beaten Luckett’s team in securing the blackrestaurantweek.com web domain.
Once they secured the filing, Luckett recruited his friends Falayn Ferrell — an operations guru — and Derek Robinson — a marketing expert — to organize the first Black Restaurant Week in Houston.
In its first year, the week featured 25 restaurants, 20 caterers, 15 food trucks and participation of 25 other local Black businesses.
The model was a proven success with over $50,000 of revenue generated in the local Houston economy through black-owned restaurants.
Since then, the trio has expanded the concept to Oakland, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Dallas, and, later this year, in Los Angeles.
In 2017, Black Restaurant Week garnered more than 2.5 million impressions and features in local and national media outlets, including The Huffington Post and Blavity.
Through continued partnerships with corporations such as Verizon, Uber, UPS, Bacardi, BB&T, and Diageo Reserve, Black Restaurant Week continues to expand its model across the United States.
“Our goal is to broaden our model nationwide to provide awareness of the Black Culinary industry which is a key ingredient to the American culture,” Luckett said. “This success has opened the door for expansion to other markets across the United States and, soon, internationally.”
Every once in a while another group in different states pops up claiming to found the “first” Black restaurant week in its market, but because of Luckett’s trademark, they all must contact Luckett’s team.
Still, a D.C. based organization, ABlackLife LLC., has claimed they were first to host a Black restaurant week in 2015.
But even they will have to contact Luckett in his team in order to host events that use or come close to using the Black Restaurant Week trademark.
“We’re not here to bash anyone who wants to host a Black restaurant week in their city,” Luckett explained. “Usually, we submit a cease and desist (letter) and then reach back out to figure out how we can partner with their efforts.”
Nonetheless, Luckett and his team are excited about the successes they have garnered with Black Restaurant in the six cities it has hosted so far.
In fact, Luckett said they plan to launch in three more cities next year and add international destinations in 2020.
“This is a concept we are truly excited about,” Luckett said. “We are confident in the brand and we are happy to highlight black-owned restaurants across the country.”
Additional curated events for Black Restaurant Week include:
Aroma: Culinary Panel Discussion: Growing the Culinary Industry Sept. 6 | Bytes, 848 Spring Street Northwest, #Suite A Atlanta
The Art of Flavor: Pop Up Dinner: The Creative Culinary Talents of Chef Jarvis Belton Sept. 11 | Parlor-ATL, 249-A Peters Street SW, Atlanta
Nosh: Culinary Showcase: The Diverse Culinary Talent of Africans and African Americans + Power of the Palate Bartender Competition: The Craft of Cocktails Sponsored by Maker’s Mark Sept. 13 | 595 North Event Center, 595 North Avenue NW Atlanta
SoundBites Food Truck Festival: Food Truck Industry Growth Sept. 15 | Atlanta Food Truck Park, 1850 Howell Mill Rd NW, Atlanta