Black History Month allows us to reflect on stories and people that have set examples of what’s possible. With a closer look at the past, we find that a vision, and the right support, help to make the impossible possible.
In honor of remaining steadfast in working towards a dream, I wanted to highlight some of the oldest Black-owned restaurants in major cities across the US. With roots steeped in traditional slave and Southern foods, the founders shown below spread the taste, feel and culture of soul food all over the map.
Along the way, they’d push the cuisine to new heights, laying the foundation for many of the comfort foods we love today.
Harold & Belle’s
In September of 1969, Southern hospitality and eats by way of New Orleans opened up in Los Angeles’ Jefferson Park district. The restaurant was named Harold & Belle’s, after husband and wife founders Harold Legaux and Mary Belle. Wanting to share the Creole flavors of their hometown, Legaux started in a small kitchen, serving only po’boy sandwiches, filé gumbo and red beans & rice.
After his passing, his grandson, Ryan Legaux and his wife Jessica, would step in, refining Harold & Belle’s into the dining experience it is today. In 2019 they celebrated their 50th year of operation.
Los Angeles has lots of wonderful Black-owned restaurants to choose from. Click here for additional options.
Sylvia’s Restaurant has been keeping the spirit alive since 1962. Founder Sylvia Woods, also known as the “Queen of Soul Food,” started cooking at the age of six. A search for a better life would convince her and husband Herbert Woods to take their hopes to Harlem.
Woods’ could never predict that a waitress job would manifest into a life changing offer. With her then boss wanting to pass down the business, Sylvia’s Restaurant was born. Now a legendary landmark, people from far and wide visit Harlem to experience Sylvia’s 55 years and three generations worth of soul food excellence.
New York is overflowing with Black-owned restaurants to support. Click here for additional options.
This South Side Chicago treasure was opened in 1950 by Harold and Hilda Pierce. At the time, white restaurant owners avoided opening locations in Black neighborhoods. With an under-served community, Pierce saw an opportunity to fill the vacancy.
Harold’s Chicken would become one of only a handful of Black-owned franchises serving South Side Chicago. In the beginning, they only sold chicken feet and dumplings. Since then, they’ve grown to offer chicken dinners and wings, along with a variety of seafood and sides. Their fried chicken is cooked to order, so diners can be confident in tasting the freshness. You can now find locations outside of Chicago in many cities around the US.
Chicago has many other Black-owned restaurants to discover. Click here for additional options.
You may want to have some time on your hands for this busy landmark. Opened in 1947 by Lucy Jackson, Busy Bee Cafe developed a reputation for fresh Southern eats. Challenges faced years later would cause the restaurant to change hands before finding current owner Tracy Gates.
Gates re-injected some much needed soul and turned Busy Bee Cafe into what’s considered the “best fried chicken” in Atlanta. From famous patrons like Martin Luther King Jr. to Barack Obama, this spot is truly legendary.
Atlanta is a major US hub for African American culture with lots of Black-owned restaurants to grub at. Click here for additional options.
Always promoting the spirit of family and love, Lois The Pie Queen would come to be known as “Mom” by customers. Unsurprisingly, Lois learned how to make her signature pies from her mother. A love for cooking would define her life: later when given an opportunity to open a restaurant along with her husband Roland, also a cook, Lois chose Sacramento Street in Berkeley, CA.
Knowing her pies were popular within the church community, Roland named their restaurant, Lois The Pie Queen. Together, they began a 50-year journey which still exists today. Serving down-home specialties like short-ribs, candied yams, black-eyed peas, cornbread muffins, and many more, the restaurant is now run by Lois’ son Chris Davis.
Oakland is an important historical piece to African American history and has many Black-owned restaurants to experience. Click here for additional options.
Founders Ben and Virginia Ali popularized this Black-owned eatery using the same original secret chili recipe that’s still used today. Much like the name suggests, the chili is fresh and homemade while the wider offerings consist of American classics like chili dogs, burgers and banana puddin’.
Since 1958, Ben’s Chili Bowl has been a faithful remedy to D.C.-area residents’ hunger. The location still sports a retro aesthetic, retaining the warmth of yesteryear. What’s even better is that you can bring a bowl of Ben’s Chili home by ordering online.
Not only has Washington, D.C. been a pivotal spot in the push for civil rights, it also has some of America’s best Black-owned restaurants. Click here for additional options.
With an infectious jingle and straight to the point name, This Is It! Soul Food has been a recognized name in Houston for more than 50 years. I even recall watching the commercials growing up, which played frequently to everyone’s amusement.
Still family-owned, it was founded in 1959 by Frank and Mattie Jones. The legendary spot is now operated by their grandson Craig Joseph. If you’re looking for foods originated from Southern cuisine, including smothered pork chops, ham hocks, oxtails, chitterlings, and black-eyed peas, search no further than This Is It! Soul Food.
Houston is a soul foodie’s dream and has lots of Black-owned restaurants to try. Click here for additional options.
With a legacy that spans over 56 years, The Raven Lounge & Restaurant has seen it all. It’s one of the oldest blues clubs in Detroit, opened in 1966 by Sam Watts and Myrtle Freeman. They joined the Great Migration towards the mid 1900s, which saw many African Americans leave the South in search of opportunity.
Although lesser-known, The Raven Lounge & Restaurant has persisted throughout Detroit’s tumultuous history. Their piping-hot fried fish comes in several varieties and is served up with other favorites like hot-water cornbread and melty mac and cheese. Live performances are held Thursday through Saturday from 9 PM to 2 AM.
A Black music mecca, Detroit has no shortage of soul. To check out what other food options the city has to offer click here.
Opened in 1941, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant would go on to become a historical landmark and focal point not only for food, but music, entertainment, culture and civil rights in New Orleans. The upstairs was a meeting place for Martin Luther King Jr. and other Freedom Fighters during the Civil Rights Movement. It started as a sandwich shop founded by Emily and Dooky Chase Sr. and grew into a sit-down Creole restaurant after son Dooky Chase Jr. and his wife Leah Lange Chase took over.
Introducing one of the first African American fine dining restaurants in the country, Leah Chase would later be called “The Queen of Creole Cuisine.” The restaurant remains family-owned and operated to this day.
New Orleans is well known for its culture, music and food. Check out a list of Black-owned restaurants that be hard to pass up in The Big Easy. Click here for additional options.
Only a mere eight years old, Streetcar Merchants is one of the oldest Black-owned restaurants in San Diego. Founded in 2013, owner Ron Suel is considered a pioneer in the scene, helping to pave the way for other restaurant hopefuls. They serve an all-day menu that specializes in Southern cuisine.
The Black-owned restaurant scene is fairly new to San Diego. To support this burgeoning community, click here.
It’s amazing to learn about the history of these landmarks. Each had to endure the challenges of discrimination and building something from the ground up. The love each restaurant poured into their food put a spell on customers, leaving many in a life long trance. If you happen to find yourself in one of the above cities and haven’t tried these historical staples, you’d do yourself a favor by stopping in for a tremendous meal.