The second annual Support Black Restaurant Days happens this weekend -- with more than 6,700 Portland-area residents having responded on Facebook they intend to be at the event
According to the Facebook event page, another 3,700 people said they might support these establishments and an additional 10,000 people have been invited, so more than 20,000 potential diners have been informed.
But how many people have actually gone out to support Black-owned restaurants? The Skanner News conducted an informal straw poll to see if these restaurant owners saw an increase in business during last years’ event.
William Travis III -- also known as Dub, owner of Dub's St. Johns soul food eatery -- said he felt a huge outpouring of support from customers, a number of whom came back throughout the year.
“The Black Restaurant Business Days weekend -- that Saturday happened to be the most phenomenal Saturday of the year,” Travis said. The patronage he received during that weekend helped him prepare for the rest of the year.
Staff at Po'Shines Cafe De La Soul in the Kenton neighborhood and the Oregon Public House in Woodlawn reported similar successes.
Amalfi’s Restaurant on NE Fremont Street saw a slight increase in business, according to owner Kiauna Floyd. The Italian eatery has been a neighborhood fixture for almost 60 years and thrives from the support of the community, Floyd said.
“Financial support of black owned businesses not only creates job opportunities but most importantly strengthens the black community economically,” Floyd said. “That's empowerment!”
Frank Taylor, owner of the downtown fine dining establishment Portland Prime and the newly-opened Southern breakfast restaurant, Sweet Jam in Beaverton, said a few people ate at his restaurant last year because of the Facebook event. Taylor expects to see more people year after year as the event grows and becomes established.
“We saw a few people, but I think it is something that as the years go on and people become more aware of it, I think we will see more of a big turnout,” Taylor said.
Not every Black-owned restaurant felt a bump in business that weekend. Norma’s Kitchen, featuring Creole and Cajun cuisine, had a fairly average weekend during the event last year.
“They absolutely did not attend,” said Bruce Broussard of Norma’s Kitchen. He said the Jantzen Beach eatery located on Hayden Island is sometimes difficult to reach, but said that shouldn’t stop people.
Food cart owners reported less success from the event than brick and mortar restaurants. James Dixon, of Dixon’s Rib Pit, was in the process of establishing his food cart during last years’ event. Currently, he is moving his business across the river to Vancouver.
Similarly, A Wing and a Prayer food cart owner Ronda Chiles reported an average weekend. Yelp reviews praise her cart on NE Prescott and 60th Avenue as a “hidden gem” of Portland, especially noting her sweet potato pound cake.
Wambui Machua, the chef and owner of Spice of Africa had an even harder time receiving support from the community because she has no permanent location. The Kenyon cuisine chef caters, teaches cooking classes, holds pop up dinners and vends during street fairs.
“[On Aug. 28], I am going to be at the Hawthorne Street Fair and people can come find my booth there,” Machua said.
Machua recently received a kiva.org loan to operate out of her own commercial kitchen, cooking classroom and café. Machua’s business was the first loan given by the non-profit Oregon's Kitchen Table Lending Team whose goal is to support emerging small businesses and empower communities.
Many of the restaurateurs and staff The Skanner News spoke with said they are unaware of the Support Black Restaurant Days event. Po’Shines staff said many people came in to eat, but they had no idea why there was extra enthusiasm that Saturday.
Travis said he knew Dub's St. Johns was featured in the listing. He said the Support Black Restaurant Days event was a topic of contentious discussion online in community and neighborhood forums, with some people accusing the event’s organizers of “reverse racism.”
For Travis, the weekend is a good excuse to celebrate both Black business owners and great food.
“I think it is important, in Portland in particular -- because there is such a small number of us here -- Black owned restaurants,” Travis said. “To me, it just helps to support all the great culinary talent and entrepreneurs of color out there.”
For a list of Black-owned restaurants, visit the Support Black Restaurants Facebook event page.