In a city that blends Southern hospitality with an eclectic vibe, foodies can go from barbecue and soul food, to international fare, to casual eats at one of the friendly bars when they discover Richmond’s Black dining scene.

With over a century of history, Richmond has come a long way from being the capital of the Confederacy. The city has undergone a cultural transformation, boasting countless breweries, a burgeoning food scene and so much more.

While in Richmond, pay homage to the diverse and expansive food culture curated by Black chefs, caterers and restaurateurs. BLK RVA and the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience (RBRE) encourage both locals and visitors to discover Black culture in Richmond.

While the African American experience in Richmond dates back centuries, the modern culture thrives in the area’s communities, shops, art galleries, events and restaurants.

In collaboration with Richmond Region Tourism, BLK RVA began in 2019 as an initiative aiming to elevate tourism to Richmond through the area’s Black culture and entrepreneurship. The website for the tourism campaign, VisitBLKRVA.com, invites all to “catch a vibe” and explore “the different cultures that make up Richmond’s unique soul.”

“We wanted to create an intentional tourism effort that primarily focuses on highlighting Black faces, Black places and Black spaces,” says Amy Wentz, BLK RVA Action Team member and co-founder of RBRE.

BLK RVA is led by an Action Team, whose members are dedicated to bringing attention to Black-owned businesses and culture. Anchoring the many businesses that BLK RVA highlights are the city’s Black-owned restaurants.

“There’s a whole vibe in Richmond when it comes to Black-owned eating spots, whether it’s the many food trucks or the caterers and our brick-and-mortar spots,” Wentz notes. “We just felt like they weren’t getting the same promotion or highlight.”

Richmond has over 60 Black-owned restaurants that range in taste and flavors, all across the city.

Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood, which is nicknamed “Harlem of the South,” is home to the city’s Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. Jackson Ward exudes Black history, heritage and culture, housing several Black-owned restaurants within its blocks.

Mama J’s Kitchen is a staple in Jackson Ward. Get your fill of Southern and soul food delicacies with dishes like flaky fried catfish and pork chops, accompanied by creamy mac and cheese, collard greens and peach cobbler for dessert. You’ll truly feel like you’re having a down-home meal at grandma’s house.

Richmond Region Tourism-Mama J's
Photo courtesy of Richmond Region Tourism

Richmond’s Black-owned restaurants feature no shortage of comfort food, particularly in Jackson Ward. Big Herm’s Kitchen slathers on the love with their fried chicken wings dipped in “ohh wee” barbecue sauce. Just down the street, The Speakeasy Grill serves Southern-inspired brunch dishes, including a renowned buttermilk-dipped chicken and waffles, from a historic mansion next to the Hippodrome Theater.

The Black dining scene in Richmond extends beyond Jackson Ward and well into the other cultural hotspots in the area. Just as diverse as the neighborhoods are the offerings from Black-owned restaurants.

Indulge in a plate piled high with a blend of West African and Southern favorites from the ever-changing lunch buffet at Chef Mamusu’s Africanne on Main. Take your taste buds on a culinary adventure with more international flavors from Addis Ethiopian Restaurant, Nile and Jamaica House Restaurant.

Soul Taco, with locations in Jackson Ward and Shockoe Slip, is a hybrid of Latin and Southern flavors. Unlikely combinations like root beer-braised oxtail with pineapple-jalapeno and chicharrones have earned Soul Taco accolades for Richmond’s best taco.

Soul Taco
Photo courtesy of Courtney Jones

“Dining is an experience,” Wentz says. “When you can bridge recipes and unique flavors with a feeling of belonging and spaces that feel like home, you fill the soul and the belly.”

From an elegant meal along the Canal at Bateau, to a casual spot like Urban Hang Suite, to mouthwatering food truck fare, Richmond’s Black-owned restaurants offer no shortage of choices. These are the restaurants that help earn Richmond acclaim and attention from diners across the country.

In an effort to further support these restaurants, Wentz, along with co-founders Kelli Lemon and Shemicia Bowen, created the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience (RBRE).

For one week in March, RBRE showcases participating Black-owned restaurants and others involved in the city’s food industry. Wentz says the idea for a Black restaurant week ties in with Richmond’s other food-themed events and festivals. The 2020 restaurant week kicked off with a food truck extravaganza and culminated in an event that featured small plates, cooking demonstrations and more from Black-owned catering companies and chefs.

RBRE’s support of these Black-owned restaurants and food professionals extends beyond one week. In 2020, RBRE started using the hashtag #RBRE365. “We’re telling people that we’re not just supporting these businesses in March, we’re supporting them 365 days a year,” Wentz remarks.

Photo courtesy of Courtney Jones

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, RBRE created a network for resource sharing and information that these restaurant owners could utilize. While there have been a number of funds and programs in the state to assist restaurants during the pandemic, RBRE noticed that many Black-owned restaurant owners did not know where to begin.

Wentz adds, “many of our restaurant owners were able to gain access to funding, like PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans, because we were sharing all of these resources.”

RBRE, in partnership with BLK RVA, created a fund to support Black-owned restaurants. The organizations were collectively able to raise over $40,000 for an emergency relief fund through Go Fund Me and merchandise sold by BLK RVA. The fund was able to support 35 restaurants, as well as Black food truck owners and caterers.

Wentz credits an outpouring of love and support from the community for the success of the RBRE relief fund, which more than exceeded its initial goal of $15,000. However, it is the hope that this momentum for Richmond’s Black-owned restaurants continues.

This year, Wentz is hoping a sponsor will cover the restaurant’s fees to participate in the annual Black Restaurant Experience in March. Wentz says that Richmond Black Restaurant Week is the biggest week, financially, for these restaurants, and hopes that they are able to recoup 100% of its benefit. The 2021 Richmond Black Restaurant Experience is scheduled for March 7–14.

Despite Richmond’s complicated past, the future is looking bright. The city is earning its place among the best food cities in the South and even in the country. Complementing the nearly 900 restaurants in the Richmond region are the homegrown culinary concepts crafted by Black chefs and restaurateurs, each offering a unique flavor and experience.

“Richmond is the birthplace of the Black experience,” Wentz explains. “We want folks to feel like when they’re coming to Richmond, they’re coming to be consumed in the culture that’s here.”

Written By

Arielle Patterson

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