Derek Robinson, left, Falayn Ferell and Warren Luckett have brought Black Restaurant Week to multiple cities across the nation and continue to expand every year. (Fredis Benitez)

Warren Luckett, Derek Robinson and Falayn Ferrell created the week to push Black dishes to the forefront.

In 2016, Black Americans were still processing the deaths of men like Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, as Black Lives Matter protests rallied for justice in their names all over America.

Warren Luckett wanted to do something outside of the realm of taking to the streets while still making a positive change for Black lives. He reflected on how food had always been the great unanimity growing up, a way for people to find common ground to discuss even polarizing topics.

That same year, he decided to make the change he wanted to see and transformed it into a way to feature those same dishes he grew up enjoying through Black Restaurant Week in Houston. Luckett wanted to reclaim Black food and promote different dishes under the African diaspora including Caribbean, African, African-American and Jamaican cuisine.

“There’s so much that comes from the culture of even just our food that can’t just be put into a box of, you’ve got chicken and waffles or you’ve got yams,” Luckett said. “It’s not that and it’s not fair that we get marginalized even though we contribute so much.”

Luckett joined forces with Falayn Ferrell and Derek Robinson, partners with digital marketing backgrounds, who created their own marketing firm, Fade Media. Their backgrounds in local work such as Houston Area Urban League Young Professionals and Greater Houston Black Chamber aligned with Luckett’s desire to help their community.

In April 2016, the first Black Restaurant Week in Houston took place with restaurants, catering businesses and food trucks alike coming together to participate. For a $200 registration fee, the businesses were provided with marketing tools and support to promote their companies along with a spot on the Black Restaurant Week website.

The following year, the group decided to take Black Restaurant Week nationally and hosted events in Atlanta and the Bay Area. Since 2016, they’ve added weeks in New Orleans, Philadelphia and Los Angeles with plans to add more cities in the coming years.

Although in different locations, each event maintains a similar formula and is “adjusted as needed” according to Ferrell. “We were able to expand fairly quickly but keep a lot of the roots and the foundation the same.”

This year, Black Restaurant Week in Los Angeles is taking place from Aug. 7-16 for its third year and Ferrell expects around 60 restaurants to participate compared to the six in its first year in L.A.

Warren Luckett wanted to create Black Restaurant Week to celebrate the diversity of Black foods in Houston. (Fredis Benitez)

Normally, the Black Restaurant Weeks would be accompanied by in-person panels, catering showcases and the Power of the Palate bartending competition but amid COVID-19 restrictions, these events have been converted virtually.

“Just like any other business having to deal with COVID-19 it’s all about the adjective, the verb of pivot [and] pivoting and understanding that restaurants are essential businesses, this is what it’s all about,” Robinson said.

The trio are using this unique opportunity to support restaurants more by offering a free registration option for those looking to promote their businesses on social media as patrons rely more on takeout and delivery options. Robinson said a $250 registration option offers a “more robust marketing experience.”

They’ve also encouraged businesses to offer take-out and delivery options and included tamper-proof labels to ensure the safe delivery of food.

“So many businesses, just the restaurant industry, in general, have been so severely affected by COVID and having to either shut down or run at 50% capacity and so we hope that as a result of participating in Black Restaurant Week, they can make some of that back,” Luckett said.

Peace Love Reedburg, the CEO of Grilled Fraiche, an American-fusion restaurant said that before the pandemic, his restaurant was beginning to flourish.

Grilled Fraiche originally began as a food truck founded in 2015 but later moved into its first brick and mortar location at 5800 West Blvd in 2017. A second location was later opened in October 2019 at 853 E. Manchester Ave in Los Angeles. Reedburg upholds that Grilled Fraiche is a healthier alternative for neighboring fast food locations.

“We give away a lot of food for people to taste because they automatically assume that healthy [food] is not [flavorful],” he said.

Once customers began to dwindle earlier this year, he saw his daily funds go from $400 per day down to $200.

This year, Reedburg is participating in Los Angeles’ Black Restaurant Week and hopes that the extra exposure will bring new customers to his restaurants. He’s using this week to introduce a salmon eggroll special with the customers’ choice of homemade sauce.

“I love what it’s about, just to get people’s business and information out there who own restaurants is super important because I believe for [Black people] in the restaurant business, we’re not educated at a certain level that other ethnicities are because of the costs of education, and learning things like that,” Reedburg said. “We need people to know more about what we do because it’s just not about the restaurant it’s about an overall, community-driven place.“

Derek Robinson, left, Falayn Ferell and Warren Luckett have brought Black Restaurant Week to multiple cities across the nation and continue to expand every year. (Fredis Benitez)

In lew of protests surrounding the deaths of Black people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, interest in patronizing Black businesses has increased by 7000% compared to last year according to a Yelp report.

Although the political climate is similar to when Luckett began Black Restaurant Week back in 2016, he said that the response is completely different this time around. During its first year, comments on social media antagonized the concept and felt that what Luckett, Ferrell and Robinson were doing was “inappropriate,” Luckett said.

“Every year we do receive a little bit of that, but this year it’s just been so much more support from the community at large in terms of participating in the week and supporting these businesses,” Luckett said. “It’s almost like because of the current climate, you see so many people of all races that are going out of their way now to enjoy the Black experience.”

Luckett wants to encourage people to frequent Black-owned restaurants beyond their designated weeks and said that the Black Restuarant Week website acts as a national directory that can be searched by zip code, different delivery platforms and even dietary restrictions.

“We definitely want them to continue to have that financial bloodline coming through their businesses and just making sure they have sustainability not just for the week, but also for the months and the years to come,” Robinson said.