Chef Marcus Samuelsson highlights four Black-owned restaurants in a new online docuseries.Photo courtesy of Red Rooster Overtown
When Marcus Samuelsson and his partners opened Red Rooster Overtown, they pledged to enrich the historically Black community they joined by hiring from within and shining a spotlight on the neighborhood and its stories.
Now, during National Black Business Month, Samuelsson is sharing stories of other Black-owned local restaurants with a new mini-docuseries entitled, You Have to Taste This, part of Pepsi's Dig In initiative to support Black-owned eateries.
Starting August 18, episodes of You Have to Taste This will air live weekly on Pepsi Dig's social media (@PepsiDigIn) and on Samuelsson's YouTube channel.
In the four-part series, Samuelsson tells the story of his Red Rooster Overtown, along with three other Black-owned restaurants — including Dukunoo Jamaican Kitchen in Wynwood, owned by Shrusan Gray, Leonie McKoy, and Rodrick Leighton. The Slutty Vegan in Atlanta and Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C. round out the featured eateries.
Samuelsson tells New Times that he was really pleased to have the opportunity to share his journey and those of the other featured restaurants. "These are four unique and incredible stories. As entrepreneurs, how do you manage and survive — especially this past year?"
For instance, Samuelsson says, Dukunoo made it through the pandemic by turning to catering. Gray, along with her husband Leighton and her mother McKoy, worked together to feed the medical community during the COVID pandemic. "It's such a great family business," says Samuelsson.
The Slutty Vegan started as a pop-up, growing as Atlanta fell in love with owner Pinky Cole's outrageous plant-based burgers. "This is an example of someone who was young and determined to build something creative," Samuelsson says of Cole's story.
He notes that Ben's Chili Bowl has been serving D.C. for six decades. "They've seen so many things during that time."
Samuelsson says that opening Red Rooster Overtown — or any restaurant — is a collaborative effort that can be even more daunting for Black entrepreneurs. "You have to have a concept, but you also have to have financial means. Most restaurants are financed through family and friends and we just don't have that rich uncle or auntie. Institutional money isn't as easy for us to get access to, either."
The chef and restaurateur says many Black business owners put their life savings into their restaurants. "It's a big risk — but it can also be a big reward," he says. "It's very different to be an entrepreneur and a person of color."
Samuelsson adds that while You Have to Taste This tells four unique stories, there are many, many more to tell. "There are hundreds of places I would like to share stories about," he says. "Hopefully, this is a starting point."
The chef and restaurateur hopes the miniseries whets viewers' appetites to visit the restaurants in person. "When someone plans a trip to Miami, I want to pique their curiosity: What restaurants can we go to? What street art can we see? What museums can we visit? I hope they'll visit Red Rooster or Dukunoo."
His goal is to shine a light on independently owned Black businesses.
"It's about showing that there are smaller businesses that we can support. It's all about awareness. 99 percent of the time, consumers want to do the right thing. We want to inspire that."
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE...
Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.