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Black-owned restaurants cautiously optimistic about Juneteenth

Naijha Wright-Brown, owner of The Land of Kush, in Baltimore, expects a busy day on Juneteenth and is even making special preparations. (Rissa Miller)

With Juneteenth approaching, some Black restaurateurs in Maryland are optimistic the day will bring increased profits, while others say there is still more work to be done to spread awareness of the holiday.

“Awareness comes first, understanding comes second,” said Keyia Yalcin, owner of Fishnet, a restaurant in downtown Baltimore. “I can’t tell you what St. Patrick’s Day is about, but I do know that I go out and celebrate and hang out at Irish bars.”

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, marks the day that slaves were officially emancipated in the United States. Juneteenth has seen an increase in awareness over recent years, with President Joe Biden officially recognizing it as a federal holiday last June.

Despite becoming a federal holiday, Juneteenth is unlikely to spur an increase in business, Yalcin said. She pointed out that Father’s Day this year is on the same day as Juneteenth, as well as people moving on too quickly from social movements as reasons for not thinking the holiday would bring business.

It remains to be seen whether Juneteenth can be a day that is known for going out to eat, such as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, both of which are tentpole days for restaurants’ bottom lines. The holiday is still gaining momentum, so some Black restaurant owners hope that people go out to their business to eat.

Naijha Wright-Brown, owner of The Land of Kush, also in Baltimore, expects a busy day on Juneteenth and is even making special preparations.

“We definitely have to stock up and buy more food,” said Wright-Brown. “Maybe even prepping for some sort of buy-one-get-one-special.”

While Wright-Brown and Yalcin have different expectations for what the day will bring in terms of business, they both shared the idea that they want Juneteenth to be a day of celebration.

“I think Black restaurants should treat it like a Cinco de Mayo and a St. Patrick’s Day, as a way to celebrate the experience of a community, and to empower them and go to their restaurants,” Yalcin said.

Last year, Fishnet held a Juneteenth event, but the restaurant will not be doing so this year. The staff is working on releasing a new product, and did not have enough time to focus on both.

“We’re not doing a big celebration this year because Fishnet is launching a new sustainable pet treat,” Yalcin said, adding that the Juneteenth will be a focus next year.

Wright-Brown said The Land of Kush is not hosting any Juneteenth event either, because there are already so many different events happening.

Marshall Weston Jr., president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said Juneteenth is a great way to support local black-owned businesses, noting that most residents probably don’t realize how many restaurants are minority owned.

“There are over 10,000 restaurants in the state of Maryland, and I think many people are just completely unaware that 40% of those are owned by minorities,” Weston said. “Sometimes when you are just dining at a table, or doing a quick counter service, you really don’t think about those owners and how they are part of the community.”

Weston said that Juneteenth is a great reason to support local and small businesses, especially with higher gas prices and inflation.

“Restaurants, particularly small businesses and small restaurants, continue to struggle to get through the pandemic,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to take every opportunity to support your local small businesses and restaurants, because they need it to get through this pandemic.”

 


2 comments

  1. Thank you for this article. Come down to The Land of Kush for AFRAM Restaurant Week and get a vCrab Cake Sandwich Combo. Our vCrab Cakes are award-winning.. That’s something to celebrate on #Juneteenth.

  2. Thank you for this article. In support for Afro/American business. If you’re ever in the PG county area stop by EJ Bar&Grill