Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Taste of Black St. Louis to Celebrate Black Chefs and Restaurateurs

Posted By on Tue, Jul 17, 2018 at 6:26 AM

click to enlarge Everybody Eats STL Founder Aisha James (center) with event coordinators (left) Y'Nette Perkins and Kizzy Hammonds. - LAYLA BRODERICK
  • Everybody Eats STL Founder Aisha James (center) with event coordinators (left) Y'Nette Perkins and Kizzy Hammonds.

When Aisha James first shared a video on Facebook about a Chicago food festival devoted to black chefs and restaurant owners, she didn't have any bigger plans. She just thought it was cool.

"It was just great seeing everybody who came out," she says of the video. "I began to tag a lot of my friends who own restaurants here. 'You guys you should do this. I look forward to attending it.'"

But her friends who commented had other ideas. "When you are going to set this up?" they asked James.

"That was not the plan," she says, laughing.

Or so she thought. James wanted someone in St. Louis to step up — but what if that someone was she herself? After consulting the friends she'd originally hoped to see run with the idea, she decided they were right: She should go for it. And with that, Taste of Black St. Louis was born.

Initially, James had hoped to introduce the event last October, but the realities of pulling off a large-scale festival made it clear she needed more time. Trained as a nurse, and working for a Fortune 500 financial institution, James admits that's event planning has been a new challenge: "I am a fish out of water — I'm learning every day." Having numerous friends in the food industry helps. "I lean on them a lot," she says.

Like the festival in Chicago that inspired it, Taste of Black St. Louis is meant to showcase the city's "black restaurants," in James' words. But you shouldn't try to parse exactly who qualifies — James isn't drawing hard lines. She'd rather err on the side of inclusivity. "Everyone is more than welcome," she says. "You can be a white business owner, and you are more than welcome to be there. You can sit next to a person of color and hopefully do some networking." (Although it's worth noting: the city's black-owned food businesses and chefs are by no means in short supply.)

Since friends encouraged her to give a St. Louis version of the event a go, James has a formed a new company, Everybody Eats STL, and gotten her feet wet by hosting smaller-scale events around town. But Taste of Black St. Louis — planned for September 22 in Tower Grove Park — will be by far the company's largest undertaking. The idea is to offer free admission, with attendees paying vendors directly — and at this point, nearly 2,000 have indicated on Facebook they plan to attend, with another 14,000 expressing interest in doing so.

And that's before the organizers have even announced the participating vendors. (July 31 is the first deadline for restaurants to sign up; James promises to share an impressive roster soon after that.) "Every week it's grown," James says, with would-be festival-goers snapping up online tickets. "We just had to add another 1,000 tickets online. At first glance it's overwhelming, but I'm taking it in stride. I'm confident there's a need for this. And we're excited to be bringing it to St. Louis."

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com

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