When Ernisha and Tracey Hall scanned the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce’s “Taste of the Region” offerings this summer, the couple noted that diversity was absent from the menu.
“We saw that there were no Black-owned restaurants ...,” Ernisha Hall said. “We wanted to have something that represented us.”
That something would ultimately take the form of Fredericksburg Black Restaurant Week (FXBGbrw). A total of 25 restaurants are participating in the event, which started this week and runs through Monday. From noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, 14 vendors will gather in the commuter lot off State Route 610 in North Stafford for a food truck festival.
The Halls conceived the idea on a Friday and had a fully functioning website and business plan before the weekend was up. Tracey Hall fashioned FXBGbrw around similar long-running events in Hampton Roads and other East Coast locales.
“It’s not a new concept, but it definitely is a concept that wasn’t being taken advantage of here,” Ernisha Hall said.
They just needed a team. Nyesha Wilson and her husband Marlon started visiting prospective restaurants and making their pitch to participate. Event planners Tortica Anderson and Michelle Riddick came on board to handle the logistics.
They even found a friend in the statehouse, as Del. Joshua Cole helped organize the food truck festival, which will include a voter registration table.
“These individuals all contributed to getting the restaurants signed up and getting the community excited about it,” Ernisha Hall said.
Each restaurant came up with either specials or a dedicated menu for the event.
Although it cost nothing for restaurants to participate, Leon Polite admits he was skeptical when he was first approached about his business, Big Bad W Pit BBQ in Stafford County.
“My first question to them when they came to visit me was, ‘How are you guys getting funded to be able to do this?’ ” Polite said.
The Halls formed a limited liability corporation and relied on sponsors such as Virginia Partners Bank and the Virginia Black Business Directory to cover their advertising and marketing budgets. They deployed paid ads on Facebook and Instagram and provided each restaurant with a gift basket. The Halls’ graphic design company, NIRAY, handled branding and the website.
Polite said he agreed to participate, more for solidarity than profits. Much to his surprise, business was up 45 to 55 percent the first two nights compared to a typical Tuesday or Wednesday.
“I did it because it’s always a good thing to work together,” Polite said. “I really didn’t think much of it. I didn’t think the impact was going to be as powerful as it was.”
Feedback from the community and restaurateurs alike has been largely positive, with a couple of exceptions. Wilson said a few restaurants were subject to “intimidation tactics” after agreeing to participate in FXBGbrw, dampening their enthusiasm. Some misguided Facebook commenters decried the very notion of a Black restaurant week as racist.
“They’ve been getting calls from customers saying, ‘If you support them, we’re not going to support you. You’re going to lose customers because you’re associated with Black Restaurant Week’—although they’re a Black-owned restaurant,” Wilson said. “It’s just a celebration, and it’s not to knock anyone else.”
Moving forward, the Halls want to reprise FXBGbrw at least two to four times per year, as well as expand it. They’ve already received inquiries from Black-owned restaurants in Woodbridge and Manassas. The next iteration is slated for February.
Polite, for one, can’t wait.
“Hopefully, next year when they do it again, I’m in a position where I can be a sponsor to help them out,” Polite said, “because this is great for Black restaurants.”
Joey LoMonaco: 540/368-5045
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