Six restaurants in the Halifax area are taking part in ByBlacks Restaurant Week showcasing Black-owned establishments.
Halifax is one of several cities participating across Canada until Sunday.
The campaign, put on by ByBlacks online magazine, has been going for a few years and was inspired by a concept in the U.S.
During the week, participating restaurants offer meal options featuring African, Caribbean and fusion cuisine.
Roger Dundas, the magazine’s publisher, was in Nova Scotia recently to visit Black-owned restaurants.
He spoke to CBC Radio’s Information Morning Nova Scotia host Portia Clark about his experiences with local businesses and why it is important to nurture Black-owned food businesses.
Their conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.
Information Morning – NS9:45New initiative aims to highlight Black-owned restaurants
I know you were just in Nova Scotia to launch the week and got a sense of the range of Black-owned restaurants and food businesses. Can you give us your impressions?
There are so many diverse restaurants there.
There are restaurants with African cuisine, Caribbean cuisine and [Nova] Scotian cuisine. I was very, very surprised. I didn’t expect so many restaurants to be honest with you.
I tried eight different restaurants, two per day, and I survived only eating Black-owned [restaurant] food.
Some people might find it surprising that you could dine out at Black-owned restaurants for that long given they don’t know there are that many here.
I think we found just in Halifax and the surrounding areas, I believe there are 13 restaurants and food trucks and I believe there are two catering companies that also offer food delivery. So you can actually order from them.
How is the food? Is there anything you’re craving still and want to come back for?
I have to say, I went to East Coast Conch in Bedford, they’re not participating, but the food was just so good.
In all fairness, I’ll go back to every one.
I went to Mary’s [African Cuisine] and that food was really, really good. And then there’s Brawta if you just want that good old Jamaican home cooking.
I also tried another outfit by the name of Franyz [Kitchen]. We tried the jollof rice with the barbecue chicken. I had that just before going on the plane. It was so filling and so delicious.
Why did you want to start this Black Restaurants Week?
In 2020, we started noticing … everything was shut down and restaurants were being slaughtered, that’s the best way to describe it. We said what can we do with the platform that we have to help them to market themselves.
So, we started off this concept. It’s fashioned off of a restaurant week that’s done in the states that focuses on Black-owned restaurants but with a twist. What we did is we said … can you provide a prix fixe menu — appetizer, entree, dessert — for a discounted price just for one week and we will market it. So that’s really a very simple concept.
What’s behind the need for this extra push through marketing? Is it financial or is there a reluctance to take part in some of the maybe the more mainstream tourism campaigns?
Talking to the different restaurants, I think they historically don’t view a lot of the established organizations as supportive of them. So, they just ignore it and they don’t participate.
And then sometimes it’s not inclusive.
A program like the Winterlicious program that the city of Toronto puts on and it’s a dine-in-option only and the restaurants create a special menu for a week.
Historically, Black-owned restaurants were take-out restaurants. Black people would not be afforded any opportunity to rent any spaces that were in prime locations.
You’d find most of the Black-owned restaurants were off the beaten path in some strip mall, in some suburban area or even if it’s downtown. It’s not on a main prominent street.
Is there still a challenge around getting access to those leased spaces or rental spaces? It sounds like some of those hurdles are still in place.
I know there’s a restaurant owner in Halifax … and they were saying that in that strip mall where they were going into the the landlord was asking them for a deposit which was I think three to four times more than all the other tenants that were in that development.
They were very reluctant to even allow them to lease the space and they have proven them wrong.
The business is successful. They’ve had a lot of patrons and it’s again, that business is actually one of my favourites, too.