Atlanta Black Restaurant Week hopes to highlight black excellence

Monday July 31, 2017 07:55 pm EDT

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Convincing restaurant owners and chefs to participate in this week's Atlanta Black Restaurant Week hasn't been an easy task.

"I want to be a great restaurant, not a ???black' restaurant," says Dishema Fulton, owner of Pearl Restaurant & Lounge in Castleberry Hill.

Created by Warren Luckett, a Morehouse alumnus who launched Houston Black Restaurant Week in 2016, Atlanta Black Restaurant Week will feature about a dozen restaurants with black owners or chefs offering prix fixe menus for brunch, lunch and dinner and showcasing various cuisines from July 31-Aug. 13. Prices range from $15-$25 per person for a casual dining experience to $35-$45 for fine dining.

"I wanted to create a model to allow black restaurants to be highlighted in the midst of Atlanta's fast growth," Luckett says, referring to the event as a chance for "free promotion" for black business owners.

Fulton opened her restaurant, formerly known as Baltimore Crab & Seafood, on Peters Street more than a decade ago and a second Atlanta location on Fairburn Road about five years later. More recently, she partnered with singer and reality star K. Michelle to open Puff & Petals, another Atlanta Black Restaurant Week participant. She's now planning a third location in Cliftondale, just west of the perimeter.

Two decades ago, Fulton was studying pharmacy and trying to decide on a career path. Living near Maryland, she found herself craving blue crab whenever she'd go home to Philadelphia. She can't name the distinct moment when she went from craving seafood to deciding to open her first restaurant in Philly, but notes that there was no formal training involved.

"I was one of those people who just tried things," she says. For her, Atlanta Black Restaurant Week is one of those things.

Today, the restaurant owner and her mother continue to prepare much of the menu for the Atlanta locations of their restaurant. The prix fixe lunch and dinner menus they're offering during the restaurant week include a $15 crab cake option and a $20 steak and shrimp meal. Fulton says she likes that participation required minimal effort on her part but allowed her to donate to local food banks and shelters while drawing in new customers for her business.

Sweet Auburn Seafood agreed to join the event for similar reasons. Owner Paul Williams franchised several Wendy's restaurants before opening Sweet Auburn Seafood nearly three years ago in an effort to help revitalize the historically black Sweet Auburn neighborhood.

The restaurant's prix fixe menu during Black Restaurant Week will include an appetizer, main course and dessert for $32.50. Main course options include shrimp or catfish and grits, eggplant lasagna and saut̩ed tilapia.

"We're excited to introduce the restaurant to new audiences," says Nancy White, Williams' chief administrator.

No value assignedSome restaurant owners, however, expressed reservations about joining the inaugural Atlanta event.

Anthony Sanders, executive chef and owner of the Atlanta Breakfast Club, has long been known for his work with Buckhead Life Restaurant Group and popular but now-shuttered restaurant concepts such as Soul Tapas. Today, his Downtown diner attracts locals and tourists alike for Southern specialties like biscuits and chicken and waffles.

Sanders initially planned to participate in Black Restaurant Week with two pop-up brunches, which would serve to unveil the Marietta Street location for his second restaurant, Good Food & Company, which is scheduled to open in the spring. But he changed his mind at the last minute, saying that he lost faith in the quality of the event after meeting with Luckett in person for the first time a few days ago.

"I figured if it doesn't feel good, I can't do it," he says, adding that he still plans to host the brunch and unveiling on his own.

For participating restaurants, one of the major selling points of Atlanta Black Restaurant Week is that 15 percent of proceeds from each restaurant's prix fixe menu sales will go to the Family Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.) food bank program.

Luckett says he hopes Atlanta Black Restaurant Week will become an annual event that sets a precedent for promoting and celebrating black excellence in Atlanta's culinary industry.

Mon., July 31-Sun., Aug. 13. www.atlbrw.com.

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