By RayJaun Stelly, The Seattle Medium
For the second consecutive year, The LEE Initiative has donated over $1 million to help preserve the cultural legacy of Black-owned restaurants through its Black Kitchen Initiative – which aims to preserve and celebrate the legacy of Black food by breaking down the barriers that keep Black voices and Black cooking on the margins of American culinary culture.
In partnership with Southern Restaurant for Racial Justice and Heinz, the initiative recently announced the awarding of grants to 65 Black-owned food businesses across the country. Each business will receive either a $15,000 or $25,000 grant to support and sustain the health of their business.
Five of the 65 restaurants selected are located here in Washington State — DayoSense Catering and Simply Soulful in Seattle, Intentions Juice and Smoothie Bar in Tacoma, Nana’s Southern Kitchen in Kent, and Trotter’s restaurant in Auburn.
For Simply Soulful, what originally began as a small operation selling sweet potato pies at local markets has blossomed into a 4.5 out of 5 stars rated restaurant according to Yelp.com. In 2014, the mother-daughter duo of Barbara Collins and Lillian Rambus evolved from a food stand into a welcoming soul food restaurant in the Madison Valley neighborhood of Seattle. Now seven years later, they have moved to a new location on 23rd and Jackson, which is in the heart of Seattle’s Central District area.
The restaurant consists of family recipes, including Rambus’ grandmother Elizabeth Hammond’s famous sweet potato pie.
Rambus, who received a $15,000 grant from the initiative, says that the timing of the award was very beneficial to their expansion efforts.
“I was excited because that was the first national award we received, and it helped us at a good time,” says Rambus. “Just being recognized nationally gave us more focus and excitement of what we’re doing and where we’re going.”
“We used the grant to help our remodel the location on Madison, and now we’re in the process of helping some other small food businesses,” added Rambus.
Dayo Jones started DayoSense Catering in 2005, where she made meals for family and friends at least twice a week. As demand for her food began to grow, Edwards quickly expanded her business by hiring a hostess and providing bi-weekly meals to over 40 clients. Since that time, DayoSense catering has expanded to a full-fledged catering company that has a considerable base of corporate and private clients.
Specializing in fresh pressed juices, smoothie bowls, sandwiches, and more, Intentions Juice and Smoothie Bar based in Tacoma, which also received a $15,000 grant, also started as a home endeavor.
With a desire to create a healthier lifestyle that evolved into creating a space for the community to be intentional, owner Marquita Evans says the purpose behind the juice and smoothie bar was “to challenge one’s mind on being intentional about what they feed their body.”
Evans also indicated said the timing of the grant was extremely important to her business.
“I was extremely relieved, the money came at a perfect time as things were hitting hardships, it helped us keep our doors open considering [we were] seeing other small businesses closing,” says Evans.
Thinking long-term Evans sees how the grant can help her business long-term, stating,
“[Because of the grant] we were able to hire an accounting firm to help our accounting and marketing, giving us more exposure for what it is we are doing,” she added.
Nana’s Southern Kitchen located in Kent has a menu full of family recipes that were passed down from owner Todd Minor’s great-grandmother. Satisfying customers with their pork chops, catfish, candied yams, and collard greens, the main priority for Minor’s restaurant is displaying his great-grandmother’s vision of strengthening and inspiring the community.
Minor expressed extreme gratitude for being recognized and selected, “we are always humbled, we are a family business with strong ties to our faith, and it’s a blessing that a corporation like Heinz would give us a great grant.”
According to Minor, the grant provide a much needed revenue boost for the restaurant, “we added the grant right to our operating cost and had the ability to use the grant how we saw fit. We’re grateful and thankful for that.”
A jewel of the Auburn community for over 50 years, Trotter’s, a family-run restaurant that serves home-cooked cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, was taken over by Michael Braxton and his family in 2017. Braxton, who started as a dishwasher at the restaurant, has been working at Trotter’s since 2004.
The restaurant, which provides an international dining experience, is decorated with newspaper articles of local and Caribbean history that are filled with stories of achievements and success adding to the customer experience. The unique aura of the restaurant is what caught the eye of Heinz and helped them secure a grant to continue their contribution to culture and legacy.
Launched in 2021, the Black Kitchen Initiative’s purpose is to help celebrate along with preserving the legacies of these establishments and their food. This alone will continue the motion to break down barriers that tend to keep Black voices and cooking on the margins of American culinary culture.
“We’re thrilled to continue our support of the Black Kitchen Initiative and help award over $1 million in grants as a part of our ongoing partnership with The Lee Initiative and Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice,” said Megan Lang, Brand Director for Heinz. “For over 150 years, Heinz has celebrated and supported the impact of food in our culture, we recognize the critically impactful role Black-owned restaurants play in our communities and culture at large.”
“We want to ensure these businesses continue to thrive for many years to come,” added Lang.