A growing number of African American celebrities, working closely with restaurant industry veterans, are adding “restaurateur” to their credentials and creating some of the hottest dining spots for business travelers, tourists, local residents and fellow celebrities nationwide. Whether you’re in the mood for down-home soul food, classic Cajun or nouvelle international cuisine, a star-powered dining experience is just minutes away. In New York City alone, six celebrity-owned restaurants have opened up since January 1997.
Development in major cities and the creation of national chains are on the horizon for some celebrity ventures hoping to cash in on the lucrative black market. “Restaurateurs and celebrities are looking at the success of restaurants that target the middle and upper-middle-class African American demographic,” says Scott Mills, senior vice president of business development for BET Holdings, the parent company of Black Entertainment Television.
While some celebrities prefer to be silent partners or to simply lend their famous names, others are fulfilling lifelong ambitions. “Celebrities are finding that restaurants enable them to synergize many aspects of their lifestyle, from entertaining large numbers of people and enjoying fine dining to conducting important business meetings and making substantial financial investments,” says Allen West, general manager of Justin’s in New York City and former restaurant industry consultant.
Wherever you plan to go on business, chances are that you won’t be far from one of these pallet-pleasing establishments. Take a few moments to pinpoint the following eateries, listed below, on your summer itinerary.
NEW YORK CITY
Justin Take one look at the baby grand piano and extensive wine list, and you’ll sense the alter ego of Bad Boy Entertainment CEO Puffy Combs at Justin’s (31 W. 21st St.; 212352-0599). Specializing in a lighter, more health-conscious approach to Southern and Caribbean foods, Justin’s offers delicacies such as lobster pan roast and down-home laves like smothered pork chops, catfish and grits, and red velvet cake covered with raspberry sauce. Prices for main courses range from $16 to $25.
Little Jezebel Plantation. The little sister to Jezebel’s, the longest-surviving black-owned upscale restaurant in midtown Manhattan, this Upper West Side spot boasts Wesley Snipes, Denzel Washington and Julius “Dr. J” Irving among its backers. Little Jezebel Plantation (529 Columbus Ave.; 212579-4952), a New Orleans-style restaurant, features Cajun and Creole main dishes including seafood Creole and smothered chicken priced from $12 to $18.
Soul Cafe Actor Malik Yoba and partners recreate the supper clubs of the Harlem Renaissance in the heart of New York’s theater district. Soul Card (444 W. 42nd St.; 212-244-7685) offers Afrocentric specialties reminiscent of the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and the American South from the chef’s signature jerk duck with red currant and merlot sauce to crusted red snapper with tropical orange and herb sauce. While dining on main courses ($13-$24), you can enjoy live music three days a week.
Sugar Bar. Owners Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, of the singing/ producing duo Ashford & Simpson, lend their personal collection of artifacts to create the harmony of an African village. At Sugar Bar (254 W. 72nd St.;