In May 2017, Kwaku Osei-Bonsu, founder of the Strange Roots Box, and Lauren Bates an employee of Quicken Loans met at a Maintenance & Mimosas event in downtown Detroit. Two months later they joined forces to launch Black Metro Eats, a seven-day event spotlighting black-owned dining establishments serving cuisines ranging from French to West African and more in the Metro Detroit area.
Black Enterprise caught up with the trailblazing duo to learn how they launched Detroit’s first restaurant week.
What were your first steps in turning your vision into 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. 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.
Surprisingly, it was tough to get restaurants to participants. About two weeks prior to the week we only had two restaurants registered.
Why? We attribute the lag to a few things:
- 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.
- Many thought by participating in “Black Restaurant Week” it would deter their “non-ethnic” clientele. While a valid concern, the purpose was to highlight the owners of 60 black-owned dining establishments in the Metro Detroit area—not exclusivity to black patrons.
What were your proudest moments during the week?
We brought 12 distinct establishments a consistent flow of first-time patrons as well as exposure to Detroit, a city where black-owned restaurants are often left out of the narrative.
Another proud moment came while we were passing out flyers at the Detroit Public Library. We met a woman named Francis who lived through the civil rights era. She was teary-eyed after finding that such an event was not only happening here but was being launched by two young millennials. That was sobering and reassuring that we were on the right path.