Local Black-owned restaurants will be getting a big boost in August. Madison Black Chamber of Commerce will highlight Black Restaurants from Madison with Black Restaurant Week, part of a celebration of diversity and history, from August 13-20.
Ten restaurants, eight food carts, five caterers and four confectioners will offer daily specials and donate ten percent of proceeds to the Community Center Fund.
And new this year, on August 18 from 4:30-7:30pm, Madison Eats Food Tours will provide anyone interested with the chance to experience samples of some of the best food in the city with a new Soul Food Tour. Patrons will also learn some of the history and diversity of the Willy Street area.
Buraka Ethiopian Restaurant, Jamerica and That BBQ Joint will be the featured restaurants. Teekela’s Sunrise will have a food cart available with Philly Steak and Mac ‘n’ Cheese as well as Greens. Daddio’s will also be providing a food cart with Veggie Fajitas and Jambalaya.
A lot of residents may be unaware of the number of Black owned local restaurants and the Black Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with Madison Eats thought this would be a good way to display the level at which people of color are impacting the local restaurant scene.
“That’s what surprised me at first was how many Black restaurants we really have,” says Othelia Cassidy, who owns Madison Eats Food Tours. “It awakened me to something we can really take pride in. Madison takes a lot of pride in its food community. I think people come to Madison to experience our food and to say we have a number of Black restaurants, at least enough to provide a week’s worth of activities, I think is great.”
Cassidy said that one of the defining traits of Madison, and the Willy Street area in particular, is the diversity of tastes and cultures in the food. Many of the Black-owned restaurants serve food grown on local farms by Black farmers.
“The food that is grown by African American as well as Hmong farmers are so important,” Cassidy said. “It struck me how many people of color are in our community that are involved in the food business and also the people who work with the food business, like the farmers.”
There are challenges to providing patrons with new tastes, however. Many people just aren’t really sure about trying new places. Cassidy sees that as a difficulty both in her Tours business as well as a challenge Black restaurants and other restaurants of diversity face.
“Just sometimes there’s a fear like you don’t know what you’re going to get when you go in that restaurant,” Cassidy said. “Are you going to like it? Are you going to feel welcome? Are you going to know what to order? Doing these tours can help bridge that gap. It gives people a chance to try it. Try that food. See what you think. It kind of breaks down those barriers.”
Madison Eats gives weekly tours of the Williamson Street area focusing on the restaurants and diversity available in Madison. But Cassidy thought having an event specific to Black tastes and culture was needed.
“There’s so much that divides us around the country right now. But there’s so many more things that can bring us together. We just have to make an effort. But it takes work. Supporting businesses that add to the culture and diversity of our city takes work but I think that’s important.”
Typically, a group size for these tours will be around 15 so it is important that anyone interested take this opportunity to contact Madison Eats at madisoneats.net. Cassidy said that for the regular weekly tours of Willy Street she takes about 10 people at a time. But wanted to expand to 15 for Black Restaurant week in anticipation of the level of interest.
As for the restaurants themselves, Jamerica has been a staple of Madison for over 20 years both as a store and a place to get great food. Jamerica has been featured on Best of Madison and is known for its famed jerk chicken. Buraka is has a beautiful patio, excellent brunches and a tasty Friday fish fry. That BBQ Joint’s brisket, ribs and wings are some of the best in the region and they provide a very large carryout menu.
“The restaurants we work with are very supportive in general,” Cassidy said. It’s great for them because I bring in customers that maybe wouldn’t have come in before. For the food carts, it’s a chance to get to a new area and new crowd. The food carts are going to have two options for food, like a meat and a veggie option. The restaurants will also have a couple samples.”
Cassidy said the spots for the tour are filling up but people still have time to sign up or show up. She believes that the farm to table aspect of the restaurants featured will drive local interest and hopes that through doing this people will come together at a time many feel alienated and divided.
“It’s such a fun way to highlight the businesses that are participating,” Cassidy said. “And food breaks down every barrier.”