Participants include more than a dozen Black-owned restaurants in central Arkansas.
Joe Vincent opened not one, but two restaurants in Little Rock during the pandemic. Both Rock City Kitchen and Rock City Taco + Margarita Bar are official participants in Black Restaurant Week, which is being celebrated in Arkansas for the first time.
“I think what they’re doing is amazing,” Vincent says. “It’s just about getting the word out, spreading that word, and making sure that everybody knows what Black Restaurant Week is and what it’s about.”
Founded in 2016 in Houston, Black Restaurant Week celebrates the flavors of African American, African and Caribbean cuisine. Through a series of events and promotional campaigns, Black Restaurant Week’s initiatives help introduce businesses and professionals to the community. Black Restaurant Week goes beyond brick and mortar restaurants, co-founder Derek Robinson says, and includes ghost kitchens, caterers, private chefs, food trucks, bartenders and operators that support the Black culinary space.
“Food is fun and so we just try to highlight it in the best way possible by building and giving awareness to these culinary businesses that we’re supporting nationwide,” Robinson says.
Over the last five years, the effort has expanded from one week in one city, to multiple week-long celebrations in hundreds of cities across the country. This year, Black Restaurant Week’s No Crumb Left Behind campaign is working to assist Black-owned culinary businesses with marketing support to raise awareness in their respective regions. According to a press release, systemic barriers faced by Black-owned restaurants, such as disproportionate access to business loans, demonstrates the importance of this campaign.
In 2020, Black Restaurant Week showcased 670 Black-owned businesses and generated an average of a 34 percent increase in sales. In Feb. 2021, organizers announced plans to expand to the Gulf Coast, Pacific Northwest, Southeast, Carolinas and Southwest regions.
“We had phenomenal success last year with the regional campaigns and wanted to continue that model to help businesses nationwide,” co-founder Warren Luckett says. “There were so many testimonials from restaurant participants of how this campaign helped keep their doors open.”
This year’s Southeast region participants include restaurants in Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. Most of the 15 Arkansas restaurants taking part in the campaign are located in the central part of the state including both of Joe Vincent’s businesses.
Rock City Kitchen, which features traditional American fare like fried chicken, burgers and salads, opened in July 2020. Rock City Taco, the first Black-owned business to open in the River Market District in a decade, opened its doors to the public earlier this month. Vincent says his culinary background comes from a “genuine love” of cooking and spending time in the kitchen with family.
“One of my great grandmothers, she worked for a restaurant and did all of the cooking for them so I was always around it,” he says.
Patrons visiting participating restaurants have a chance to win a cash prize by completing an interactive Bingo card. Spaces on the card include tasks like taking a selfie with a featured cocktail or snapping a photo of a takeout meal. The first two people to submit their completed Bingo card will win a $500 cash prize.
“I think as this tradition continues to go on, I think that it’ll definitely get bigger and people will definitely try to support those businesses that’s been identified and participate in Black Restaurant Week,” Vincent says.
Black Restaurant Week raps up May 23 in Arkansas. For a list of participating restaurants or to download your Bingo card, visit www.blackrestaurantweeks.com.