Arts & Culture

Diversifying Your Palate: New York African Restaurant Week Expanding Platform for Restaurateurs of Color

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With today’s millennials—a group that’s set to become the nation’s largest living population—being dubbed the “foodie generation,” it’s no big surprise that any city’s Restaurant Week would be a hit. Created to increase foot traffic and tourism during slow times for the industry, there are sales on prefixes and an excuse for any foodie to explore and expand their palates without emptying their pockets. In New York alone, it brought in more than $14 million in 2013 —and that’s just based on online reservations.

An enterprising man of Nigerian descent, Akin Akinsanya decided to not only put his own spin on Restaurant Week, but provide chefs and restaurateurs of African descent the platform to showcase their businesses and skills. As founder and executive producer of the New York African Restaurant Week (NYARW), set to start May 31, Akinsaya ensures that everyone can enjoy the spices and flavors of his culture and continent and entrepreneurs of color can get a piece of that multimillion-dollar pie.

“My appreciation for the African culture and the need to celebrate our common humanity has really shaped the way I have approached the whole endeavor,” he says. “I am really excited to share and allow more people to experience the culture and to ask questions. I personally celebrate every culture because I know I grow as a person when I [do].”

[Related: US-Africa Synergy to Host Third Annual Cultural Evening] caught up with him to talk about how he sparked the initiative, its success and how others can combine love for their culture with professional passions. What was the inspiration behind starting African Restaurant Week, and when did you officially launch the first one?

The inspiration was mainly to create a platform where we can celebrate the African cuisine and culture here in NYC. We wanted to highlight the chefs and the restaurant owners and bring people from all over together to experience the richness of the cuisine and culture. We are particularly excited about how the diaspora has embraced it and the sense of pride it promotes.

What were the first steps you took to launching this initiative?

The idea of the New York African Restaurant Week (NYARW) originated from the Panla “Taste of Africa” events. While doing those events we developed the relationship necessary with the various chefs and restaurant owners.

What should people expect when participating in NYARW in terms of experience, types of restaurants, diversities of palates and cultures?

People should expect to be excited at the vast array options of food and events. I really want to educate everyone about how much Africa influences different cuisines. I have participating restaurants [whose cuisines originate from across Africa and the diaspora] including Ethiopia, Morocco, Ghana, Guyana and more to show the breadth of our influence on cuisine. It should really be an exciting time in NYC where people all over the world enjoy great food and entertainment.

Detail the #WhatsYourAfrica campaign. How is this connected with NYARW?

[Participants can] share a short video or text post [detailing] your favorite African food, place, personality, music, fashion, friends, [or experience] on social media. [We are encouraging people to share with]  friends and network. They can use #Nyarw2015, [and tag their] favorite restaurant [along with] a link to our Website, To learn more please visit Those with the most likes and shares will win prizes including free dinners at participating restaurants.

What three tips/steps do you recommend for others who seek to launch an initiative and take it from idea to enterprise?

Build a good team, develop the right relationships and stay focused.

For more information on New York African Restaurant Week and the official schedule, visit