When chef Noreese Kelly-Howard and her husband, Lavelle Howard, opened their Miami takeout restaurant Conch It Up Soul Food in late 2015, business was good.
Their Bahamian-inspired seafood menu was an instant hit with Liberty City locals, who flocked to the tiny spot at 4507 NW 17th Ave. for a taste of the retired teacher-turned chef's take on family recipes.
Six years later, Conch It Up remains a go-to spot. Popular menu items include Kelly-Howard's fried conch tossed in a sweet-and-sour sauce and a double-decker sandwich that stacks two fried pork chops between four slices of bread with lettuce and tomato.
"Before COVID-19, we were selling all these dishes out — we were doing very well. But since the pandemic, things have slowed down," she tells New Times. "Since we reopened, it's been up and down. For a small business, it's been hard. We can feel it. But with Restaurant Week, we're hoping it brings some newcomers to our door."
Returning to South Florida for the second year, Black Restaurant Week will end its 15-city tour in Miami. The national culinary and cultural campaign began in 2016 to support and celebrate the flavors of African-American, African, and Caribbean cuisines but more recently evolved into a COVID-19 relief effort.
Created in 2016, by southeast Texas entrepreneurs Warren Luckett, Falayn Ferrell, and Derek Robinson, Black Restaurant Week began as a one-city food experience in Houston. The traveling event has expanded nationwide and internationally.
In an August 2020 report on the economic impact of COVID, University of California Santa Cruz economics professor Robert Fairlie found that 41 percent of Black-owned businesses shuttered in April 2020, compared to 17 percent of white-owned businesses.
"Most businesses don't have the marketing or advertising dollars to promote their business," says Ferrell. "Black Restaurant Week was developed to shine a light on minority-owned businesses, aiding them in building community awareness to increase their bottom line."
This year, Black Restaurant Week's series of regional cultural events has supported more than 1,200 restaurants. That's a big increase over last year, when about 700 businesses participated, according to Ferrell.
The platform, which has restaurants offer a special prix-fixe dinner or highlight a chef's signature dish, also serves as an educational tool to help show consumers the abundance of cultural cuisines in their local community and to dispel ethnic untruths.
This year's Florida edition begins Friday, November 12, and runs through Sunday, November 21. More than 50 restaurants are participating, at establishments from Jacksonville to Tampa, Orlando, and Miami.
In Miami, participating restaurants announced so far include Conch It Up Soul Food (4507 NW 17th Ave., Miami), Food Dude Fresh Jerk Grill (2600 S, University Dr., Miramar), Grown (8211 S. Dixie Hwy., Miami), Ice Cream Heaven (17560 NW 27th Ave., Miami Gardens), Manjay (8300 NE Second Ave., Miami), We Shuckin (4759 NW 167th St., Miami), and the Licking (various locations). The full list of participating restaurants will go live on Friday, November 12, at blackrestaurantweeks.com.
"This is a marketing initiative aimed at helping businesses. It's really about keeping the dollars in the community and driving customers to these restaurants," Ferrell says. "From there, it's our hope they're able to reinvest back into their business."
A complete list of participating restaurants will be posted on November 12 at blackrestaurantweeks.com.