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Chicago Black Restaurant Week back Sunday for fourth year, features 37 locations

Darnell Reed, chef/owner of Luella's Southern Kitchen, which is taking part for a fourth time in Chicago Black Restaurant Week.

Darnell Reed, chef/owner of Luella's Southern Kitchen, which is taking part for a fourth time in Chicago Black Restaurant Week. | Facebook

For the fourth year, black-owned restaurants will be center stage in the coming week during the annual Chicago Black Restaurant Week.

It starts Sunday, goes through through Feb. 17 and will feature 37 black-owned restaurants throughout the city and also in nearby suburbs. They range from Italian diners and seafood spots to juice bars and dessert shops.

The aim, says Lauran Smith, the promotion’s founder, is “all about supporting African-American businesses.

“When you patronize these black-owned businesses, they’re able to hire more workers, which keeps people off the streets, it gives people jobs so they can provide for their families,” says Smith. “It’s a domino effect.”

Smith came up with the idea in 2015. She wasn’t sure at first how things might go. Then, once she set up a Facebook page, “It had about 100 ‘likes’ in 15 minutes. And that was when I realized this was something people wanted.”

About 15 restaurants participated the first year. It’s kept growing.

Chicago Black Restaurant Week comes right after the broader yearly Chicago Restaurant Week.

Smith says she thought the added focus was needed: “I felt like we weren’t given enough opportunity to showcase the beautiful businesses and restaurants that we already have in the community.”

There’s also another reason for the timing, Smith says. Before February was recognized as Black History Month, there was Negro History Week — established by Carter G. Woodson to celebrate black contributions to the United States — during the second week of February. Smith says she timed Chicago Black Restaurant Week for the same week to “honor him for paving the way for us to have our own month of celebration.”

Darnell Reed, who owns Luella’s Southern Kitchen, 4609 N. Lincoln Ave., has taken part from the start. He was surprised at how many restaurants are involved this year.

“I would’ve never thought that there were 37 black-owned restaurants in Chicago,” Reed says.

He says learning more about other black-owned restaurants was a key reason he got involved. “When Black Restaurant Week came about, we all realized that there are others, too,” he says.

Reed says he hopes the event keeps growing, even beyond the food industry.

“Hopefully, this turns into something else, where it won’t just be black-owned restaurants,” Reed says. “It’ll be all black-owned businesses.”