First ‘518 Black Restaurant Week’ looks to bring buzz to small businesses

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The Capital Region’s first-ever Black Restaurant Week is happening through June 25.  

Founder Jamila Adams, who owns the soul food spot Johnnie’s on Broadway, created 518 Black Restaurant Week to help give exposure to restaurants that have struggled through the pandemic and dealt with inflation over the past year.

“I wanted all of my friends in the food industry to be recognized,” Adams said.

One of the 22 restaurants participating is Organa Food and Juice Bar, a plant-based eatery at River Street Market in Troy.

“Growing up, there were never any options, especially in our community. Anytime we ate anything, it was always some junk, maybe from the local corner store,” said Organa’s owner, Haseim Townsend.

Townsend wanted to make a change. Last year, he and his wife, Doe Henry, opened the restaurant to give people a healthy option.

They’ve found success at a time when many businesses, especially those owned by people of color, have struggled. Adams is happy to see many participating restaurants were busy earlier this week.

“For the first two days, Monday and Thursday, a lot of the restaurants were packed,” she said. “I just want to say thank you for acknowledging these restaurants, cause we work hard. These restaurant owners work hard, and we need your assistance in maintaining our restaurants as well.”

A number of restaurants in Albany, Troy, Schenectady and other cities are offering special $35 deals.

The week was recognized by the Albany Common Council earlier this year, thanks to 7th Ward Councilman Sergio Adams. The goal is to introduce people to food they may not have known was right in their backyard.

“It just brings a whole community together of people and also invites a lot of people into establishments and places and spaces that they may not have visited before,” said Adams. “Coming out of the pandemic, a lot of them were hit hard, a lot of Black-owned small businesses went under, and so this is just another opportunity to kind of ramp up some of the businesses.”

“I feel proud to be amongst these businesses, a lot of these businesses I didn’t even know existed myself,” said Townsend.

There are already plans to expand the week next year.

“Moving forward, the goal of this week is to build on it. Not to just have a week this one year, but one, to be able to grow it, to make it even more inclusive to different vendors that may be from different areas,” Adams said.

518 Black Restaurant Week continues until Sunday. Click here for a list of participating restaurants.

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