By Ryan Velez
For many people outside of Detroit, the city is the butt of many jokes regarding its economic and cultural status today versus its past, but it’s easy for people to miss the strides that native Detroitans are taking to improve their city. While it may seem simple, one thing that elevates the profile of cities for many people is a food scene, and Black Enterprise shares the story of one pair that have done their part, working together to create Detroit’s first Black Restaurant Week.
Kwaku Osei-Bonsu, founder of the Strange Roots Box, and Lauren Bates, an employee of Quicken Loans, only met recently at a Maintenance & Mimosas event in downtown Detroit in May of 2017. However, the pair made an impression on each other, collaborating two months later to launch Black Metro Eats, a seven-day event spotlighting Black-owned dining establishments in the Detroit metro area, serving cuisines ranging from West African to French.
Bates credits her partner for helping set the foundation for turning this vision into a reality. “Kwaku has a background in web development so he built out the website, restaurant recruitment packet, and all digital collateral that would act as marketing support for the week.” However, Osei-Bonsu points out that his partner had a vital role as well. “Lauren created a list of potential participating restaurants so that we could strategize a plan of action. Lastly, we created a compelling press release that would rally the media around a community-based inaugural event.” While any event is bound to find hurdles for the first time, one thing that neither expected was a lack of restaurants willing to initially participate, with only two establishments signed up two weeks prior to the event.
The pair believes it was a twofold issue that led to this initial stall: “Metro Detroit Black Restaurant Week is new and not necessarily something that restaurant owners within our community were familiar with. In retrospect, they aren’t generally asked to participate in Detroit Restaurant Week. Some restaurants needed a bit more of a push, so they received in-person pitches. Many who were initially unresponsive expressed interest after seeing other notable establishments register.” Another concern was that restaurants felt that participating would deter non-ethnic clientele, but Bates and Osei-Bonsu made it clear that it was about highlighting establishments versus exclusivity to Black patrons.
With the struggles, though, come some moments that make it worthwhile. In one instance, an elderly woman who saw the pair handing out flyers became teary-eyed, having lived through the Civil Rights era and now seeing two millennials promoting an event like this in Detroit.