Eat NOLA Noir promotes patronage of black-owned restaurants


Courtesy of Eat NOLA Noir

Eat NOLA Noir, which runs Feb. 12 through Feb. 24, celebrates and supports black-owned restaurants in New Orleans by encouraging patrons to eat at participating businesses.

New Orleans’ culinary chops are widely lauded as some of the best in the country – just ask any lifelong resident, Tulane tour guide or student trying to convince their parents to splurge on Shaya during Family Weekend.

While New Orleans boasts basically endless opportunities to eat, many students and city residents tend to frequent the same few places, whether due to convenient Uptown proximity, Instagram trendiness or their reputations for culinary excellence. Though there’s no hangover Humble Bagel can’t cure, and the legendary statuses of upscale establishments like Commander’s Palace are well-deserved, there are still restaurants city-wide that have a lot to offer but lack the same recognition.

Many speak fondly about about the creole culture rooted in New Orleans cuisine as a point of pride to visiting family members, while in the same breath suggesting St. Roch Market for lunch. Though cajun cuisine does deserve to be a celebrated aspect of New Orleans culture, it is often treated more as a talking point. These restaurants are often passed over in favor of hip options that contribute to the gentrification of post-Katrina New Orleans and have resources available to them that are impossible for small or minority-owned restaurants to compete with.

Eat NOLA Noir aims to challenge this disparity by promoting small, black-owned restaurants and chefs and celebrating their rich contributions to New Orleans’ culinary landscape. The first Black Restaurant Week began Feb. 12 and will conclude Feb. 24. Over a dozen local restaurants owned and operated by black entrepreneurs are participating in the event, many of which offer specials and deals to encourage patronage. 14 Parishes, Sassafras Creole Kitchen and The Half Shell on the Bayou all offer a Lenten special, while Heard Dat Kitchen and Blaze Bistro feature discounted Chef Specials and happy hours.

Courtesy of Blaze Bistro
Blaze Bistro is one of the many local restaurants participating in Eat NOLA Noir.

Eat NOLA Noir was founded by co-curators Erica Durousseau and Zella Palmer, uniting Durousseau’s entrepreneurship background with Palmer’s experience as director of Dillard University’s Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture to create a platform for the promotion of minority-owned restaurants and businesses.

In true foodie fantasy form, New Orleans is no stranger to promotional restaurant programming: COOLinary runs a restaurant week in September to celebrate local cuisine, as well as a month-long campaign in August to generate traffic during the slow tourism season by partnering with upscale restaurants which offer highly discounted prix-fixe meals. While events specifically supporting black and minority-owned restaurants have popped up nationwide, Eat NOLA Noir is the first of its kind in New Orleans.

New Orleans is known for its aversion to chains and prides itself on fostering the creation of local small businesses, but this constructs a heavily saturated and competitive atmosphere that mom-and-pop shops struggle to stand out in. Small restaurants don’t have the budget to settle down in trendy areas or to ramp up marketing enough to compete with popular players.

“A lot of [these restaurants] don’t have the resources for large marketing campaigns, and they also don’t have the funding to be in prominent areas,” Durousseau said. “So they might have great food, they might work really hard, but some people don’t even know they’re on the map because they can’t afford radio advertisement, they can’t afford ads and booklets and things like that, they can’t afford to spend a whole lot of time on social media.”

Courtesy of Eat NOLA Noir
In addition to finding out details about participating restaurants, interested patrons can also use Eat NOLA Noir’s website to make reservations.

Eat NOLA Noir promotes the deals and details of participating restaurants through its website, Instagram and Facebook page, but a driving force in its success is the strength in numbers by uniting these black-owned businesses. By pooling their resources, all the restaurants increase their chances of visibility, through cross-promotion and association with the Eat NOLA Noir brand. The goal is to leverage this visibility to stimulate economic growth so these small business can continue to grow, expand product offerings and even open more locations.

As the programming comes to a close, many restaurants have reported positive results from participating in Eat NOLA Noir. The promotion helped draw people out of popular areas like the Garden District and Central Business District and into the Treme and New Orleans East.

The 12-day promotional event is Eat NOLA Noir’s inaugural run, but moving forward it hopes to turn Black Restaurant Week into a bi-annual event and begin introducing more programming, such as pop-ups and the involvement of other business ventures like food trucks and bars.

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