The first-ever Detroit Black Restaurant Week (DBRW), which took place August 21-27, was the brain child of my overachieving-azz unicorn friend (the same one who convinced me to become a Detroit Influencer for I Don’t Do Clubs), Kwaku Osei-Bonsu.
I remember when he first told me about the idea. We’d just finished watching an outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (we dipped at intermission ’cause we were hungry and that play was dumb long) and went to grab some food at Rock City Eatery, this cute lil hipstery bar-and-grill spot in Midtown Detroit. While forking through our macaroni bowls (mine was GF, of course) and the best brussel sprouts I’ve ever tasted in my entire life (and I don’t even like brussel sprouts), Kwaku told me that he and his friend Lauren Bates were planning on launching the first Detroit Black Restaurant Week through their newly founded venture BlackMetroEats.com. I was here for it.
“Wow, that’s hella dope!” I said, hyped but not at all surprised (because as I said earlier, Kwaku is a unicorn). “So when do you plan on doing it?”
“In August, the week of the 21st,” he said with no hesitation. Mind you, it was July. But that’s the thing I love most about Kwaku: when he says he’s gonna do something, he’s does that s***. No ifs, ands or buts.
However, coordinating the week came with its fair share of challenges. The first and greatest one of all was getting enough buy-in from local black restauranteurs. Which was odd, considering the fact that the whole purpose behind the week was to bring some much-needed shine to the Black culinary scene in Detroit. So the fact that it was difficult to garner participation from the very establishments the week was created to promote and support was far more disappointing than ironic.
“The most challenging part about planning this week was just seeing black people hold themselves back,” Kwaku expressed candidly during one of our many vent sessions. “And by that I mean dealing with a lot of restaurant owners and their reluctance to participate because of their fear of offending their white customer base.”
And stuff like this is something we see far too often amongst black folk — we’re constantly readjusting ourselves to appease our white counterparts. But why?
“It’s just kind of trickled throughout society. It takes me back to things like Juneteenth and slaves in Texas being the last ones to find out that they were free, but even some of those people were like, ‘Why would I leave this plantation, massa treats us good.’ Many black people now have that same thought process — Why would I do something different when everything is so good now? — not realizing that things could be soooo much better.”
Although he initially received some hesitation and pushback from restaurant owners, Kwaku continued to push forward.
“I kept picking at ‘em, you know. I gave them that good old Howard try,” he said, referencing the resilient spirit we inherited from our beloved alma mater. “But some people still weren’t interested in becoming involved and I don’t know if they ever will be. You can’t change everybody’s mind.”
But he was able to change several.
Just one week before DBRW’s debut, the lineup of participants jumped from a strong three to a solid TWELVE. Kwaku said interest from restaurant owners spiked after he and Lauren were featured on several major news outlets promoting the week, including The Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, Detroit Metro Times, Channel 7, Eater, Hour Detroit and Forbes.
“When stories about the week began to launch in the news, the phone never stopped ringing,” Kwaku said. “It was so beautiful to finally be receiving the support that we had longed for all summer.”
Brix Detroit, a quaint and cozy wine and charcuterie boutique that opened just days before the week commenced, was one of the last-minute additions to the lineup.
When Kwaku and I met there for drinks during Black Restaurant Week, we got a chance to kick it with one of the co-owners, Mikiah Westbrooks, who’s probably one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. She told us all about how she and her husband, Fran, moved home to Detroit from New York to open their own business, and lauded Kwaku for launching a movement that has generated so much support for black-owned businesses around the city.
“I’m so proud of what you’re doing because you’ve brought so much publicity to restaurants that wouldn’t ordinarily get attention,” she told Kwaku. “But the beauty of it is, even though it’s Black Restaurant Week, it’s such a diverse experience. Everybody’s coming out for it because everyone knows that it’s needed.”
As for the future of Detroit Black Restaurant Week, Kwaku says there will be another one next summer — and I’m sure plenty more black restaurant owners will be lined up waiting to take part.