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Adventures Culture Entrepreneurship

The Oldest Black-Owned Restaurants in Major Cities Across America

Photo: David

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.

Photos: Twitter & Harold And Belle’s

LOS ANGELES

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.

Photos: Ajay Suresh & Su–May

HARLEM, NYC

Sylvia’s Restaurant

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.

Photos: TonyTheTiger & Facebook

CHICAGO

Harold’s Chicken

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.

Photos: Restaurant News & The Busy Bee Cafe

ATLANTA

Busy Bee Cafe

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.

Photos: Eugene Kim

OAKLAND

Lois The Pie Queen

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.

Photos: Ben Schumin & Skeejay

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Ben’s Chili Bowl

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.

Photos: thisisit.com & Facebook

HOUSTON

This Is It! Soul Food

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.

Photos: Facebook & GatorFan252525

DETROIT

Raven Lounge & Restaurant

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.

Photos: Krista & Facebook

NEW ORLEANS

Dooky Chase’s Restaurant

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.

Photos: Facebook

SAN DIEGO

StreetCar Merchants Chicken Bar

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.

Categories
Culture

Favorite Foods of Famous Civil Rights Leaders

Photo: Chicago Urban League Records, University of Illinois at Chicago Library

It’s Black History Month and as we reflect on the contributions of African Americans, it’s always fun to discover little known facts. Oftentimes, when we hold someone in high regard, what they represent overshadows their basic humanity. We forget that underneath all the amazing accomplishments, lies a human being who’s not that different from us.

No matter which way your moral compass points, everyone loves a good plate of food. Food is the common thread which binds us all; it feeds, connects, and heals. With that in mind, I thought it could be fun to highlight the favorite foods of famous civil rights leaders. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about a person from what they like to eat. 

Photos: Bettmann/CORBIS & jeffreyw
  • ROSA PARKS
  • Favorite Food: Chicken and Dumplings, Featherlite Pancakes
  • Brief Background: Civil Rights activist and catalyst Rosa Parks was born February 4th, 1913. Life would lead her down a path towards civil rights, later becoming a member of the NAACP. In 1955 she became famously known for not giving up her bus seat, sparking the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott and making her an inspiration to many. Aside from her work in activism, she was also very much into food. She knew how to make one of her favorite dishes, chicken and dumplings, from scratch. “Auntie Rosa wouldn’t use a bowl,” says Sheila McCauley-Keys, Parks’ niece. “She used the same board she rolled the dough on, and would place the flour and salt mixture down, make a well in the center, add water, and mix with her fingers until a ball formed.” Further evidence surfaced in 2015, when the Library of Congress released personal documents of Parks’ which included a Featherlite Pancake recipe written on the back of an envelope. 
Photo: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 & jeffreyw
  • FREDERICK DOUGLASS
  • Favorite Food: Black Eyed Pea Soup, Oysters
  • Brief Background: Spending his younger years as a slave, at 20, Frederick Douglass escaped to New York in pursuit of freedom. His travels would turn him into the famed abolitionist, public speaker and activist we know today. Unlike most African Americans at the time, Douglass could read and write. He would go on to publish not one, but three autobiographies. In the books, Douglass detailed life as a slave. He spoke of the foods they ate: boiled coarse cornmeal, third-rate corn, often-tainted pickled pork and poor quality herrings. Douglass felt slave masters used food as a form of control. Despite such, slaves found resourceful, sometimes “unlawful” solutions using hot ash and wrapped leaves to cook with or use their hats to mix foods. At night they’d take produce from nearby farms or fish for oysters; afterwards using the shells as eating utensils.
Photos: Carl Van Vechten & PxHere
  • MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE
  • Favorite Food: Sweet Potato Pie
  • Brief Background: Best known for opening the Bethune-Cookman University in Florida, Mary McLeod Bethune is an educator and civil rights leader. Growing up, Bethune had a thirst for learning and would walk four miles each way to school. One of her talents was fundraising, securing a sizable investment from John D. Rockefeller in 1905 to the tune of $62,000 (that inflates to 1.7 million today). Another way she raised money was by selling sweet potato pies. She would become so well known for her sweet potato pies that the recipe still exists today. 
Photos: Allan Warren & Jennifer Woodard Maderazo
  • JAMES BALDWIN
  • Favorite Food: Soul Food
  • Brief Background: James Arthur Baldwin is a famous American writer and activist born in “Black Mecca,” otherwise known as Harlem, New York City. Considered one of the 20th Century’s greatest writers, his exploration of race, sexuality and civil rights shook up the literary world. Known for his transnational taste, Baldwin’s palate was very eclectic for the time. His love for food and criticism of its social bearings would appear in the pages of his novels Another Country and Just Above My Head. He spent his last seventeen years in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, where he, along with his chef Valerie Sordello, would regularly host dinner parties. Baldwin’s close friend and frequent dinner guest, Jessica B. Harris, recounts in detail the experience. When not hosting, he frequented the Paris scene; his favorite soul food restaurant was Inez Cavanaugh’s Chez Inez.
Photos: Library of Congress & Johan Bryggare
  • BOOKER T. WASHINGTON
  • Favorite Food: Ginger Cakes
  • Brief Background: A Virginia born son of a slave owner and enslaved cook, Booker Taliaferro was an author, educator and public speaker. He would later adopt the surname “Washington” from his mother’s husband Washington Furgeson. Booker T. Washington turned a hard upbringing into a lasting legacy by founding Tuskegee University. Under his guidance, Tuskegee University became a leading institute in the nation. In his writings, he shared his experiences as a slave and as an African American. With food options scarce in those days, he recalls his childhood fondness for ginger cakes, stating, “at that time those cakes seemed…to be absolutely the most tempting and desirable things that I had ever seen; and I then and there resolved that, if I ever got free, the height of my ambition would be reached if I could get to the point where I could secure and eat ginger cakes in the way that I saw those ladies doing.” 
Photos: Pixabay & Jakub Kapusnak
  • BILLIE HOLIDAY
  • Favorite Food: Chinese Roast Duck
  • Brief Background: The American jazz legend Billie Holiday was known for her unique vocal style, influencing the sound of music for years to come. Her talent was such that it broke down racial barriers. She frequently included many references to food in her songs. In her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, she wrote, “Singing songs like ‘The Man I Love’ or ‘Porgy’ is no more work than sitting down and eating Chinese roast duck,” she wrote, adding, “and I love roast duck.” Loved on and off stage, Holiday also often cooked fried chicken for her musician friends. 
Photos: Mark Gulezian & Pixabay
  • W.E.B. DUBOIS
  • Favorite Food: Bread & Milk
  • Brief Background: In the year 1968, W.E.B. Dubois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He’s known as one of the preeminent African American sociologists, historians, authors and activists from the early 20th century. He also was instrumental in the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With too many accolades to name, a little known tidbit about Dubois is that he also enjoyed food writing. His writings share insight into the role food played in everyday life during his time. He once wrote, “The deceitful pork chop must be dethroned in the South and yield a part of its sway to vegetables, fruits, and fish,” a commentary on African Americans’ predilection for unhealthy plantation diets. Aside from bread and milk, you can find a list of Dubois’ favorite things here.
Photos: Pixryl & Library of Congress
  • HARRIET TUBMAN
  • Favorite Food: Chicken, Wildberries, Hardtack Biscuits, Root Beer, Pie, and Gingerbread
  • Brief Background: Although her exact birthdate is unknown, she’s known as the “Moses of her people.” Harriet Tubman lived a storied life as a slave, then escapee turned liberator as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. Adding to her impressive list of accomplishments, Tubman was the first African American woman to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War as a nurse, spy and cook. A little known fact about Tubman is that in order to fund her freedom efforts, she was a professional cook. As the daughter of a cook, Tubman learned the skills that would help her keep countless mouths on The Underground Railroad fed.
Photos: PxHere & Taste of Home
  • MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
  • Favorite Food: Sunday Feast, Quilly
  • Brief Background: One of the world’s most famous civil rights activists, Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and public speaker. As the figurehead of the Civil Rights Movement, he brought a non-violent approach which helped bring the African American plight to a national stage. MLK’s love for food is well-documented. His favorites read like the veritable starting line-up of African American classics. From fried chicken to mac n’ cheese and everything in between. MLK felt that Sunday feasts were important centerpieces to family and community. He was also a huge fan of Quilly, a light dessert made-up by his mother that features gelatin, whipped cream, marshmallows and fruit salad. 

Learning about the diets of my cultural forebears has taken me past the legend and brought me closer to the person. While today we have the luxury of enjoying a wider variety of food options and lifestyle choices, it’s interesting to consider how simple the diets of these famous figures were. It goes to show how powerful food is and has always been.

Categories
Hit-Or-Miss

School Served Fried Chicken For Black History Month, Parents Were Pissed

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While on the surface, Hopewell Valley Central High School in Pennington, NJ probably meant well, but their choice to celebrate Black History Month through a specific lunch menu didn’t go over very well.

They served the students fried chicken, cornbread, sweet potato casserole, sauteed spinach, mac & cheese, and peach-apple crisps, according to NJ.com.

There seemed to be chatter within the school’s students, even some local residents and parents who complained the menu was stereotypically “black,” according to CBS News.

You might be thinking, people are overreacting, but it probably would have helped if the school explained how they chose those dishes, instead of just throwing them out there without context. HVCH later apologized, saying:

“The decision to include these items without any context or explanation, reinforces racial stereotypes and is not consistent with our district mission.”

Cathy Penna of Pomptonian Food Service, who worked with the school to put together the menu, said the intent was to celebrate with soul food.

I remember my high school lunches, and I would have killed for a menu like this, but I don’t see race when I’m stuffing my face with delicious fried food.

Who knows what their menu will look like going forward, but St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, so we can hope that they might give the kids some Guinness beer and corned beef.