I firmly believe that Chicago is the food capital of the world. Period. All of the Black-owned restaurants here give the city its flavor. 

In December 2017, Jeremy Joyce founded Black People Eats, a restaurant directory highlighting local Black-owned restaurants that don’t often get mainstream media attention outside of Black History Month.

Beginning Oct. 1, consider dining at local Black-owned restaurants for Black People Eats’ second annual Blaktober festival, a month-long virtual food festival dedicated to celebrating and bringing awareness to Black-owned food spots in Chicago and the Chicagoland area. 

Follow Black People Eats and Blaktober on Instagram @blackpeopleeats  and @blaktober for the list of participating restaurants.

Ultimately, Joyce said, Blaktober is supposed to be an in-person festival taking place within one building. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival is “virtual,” meaning patrons have to go to the participating restaurants to grab their specials.

The 2021 Blaktober will feature about 35 eateries in Chicago and the surrounding areas. Participating restaurants will offer discounts and specials every weekend in October. New restaurants added to the festival this year include Brunch N Burgers (pulled pork sandwich and peach cobbler in a cup), Provare (shrimp and Hennessey scampi) and Mimi’s Tacos & French Fries (three turkey or chicken tacos).

Photo courtesy of Brunch N Burgers [Facebook]

Last year, more than 70 restaurants participated in Blaktober. Patrons walked in or placed an order over the phone and said “Blaktober” to receive a discount at participating restaurants. Additionally, Black People Eats offered a virtual online event that included an e-cookbook with recipes from Black chefs and live virtual cooking demonstrations.

This year, Joyce says Black People Eats will host an in-person brunch and a dinner party. You can RSVP for Black People Eats: Sweetest Day Brunch here

His goal for next year is to host an in-person Blaktober, similar to the Taste of Chicago.

Blaktober comes at a moment where the restaurant industry is still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the pandemic’s early months, mandated stay-at-home orders forced some Chicago restaurants to close temporarily, while others closed for good. 

Restaurants and bars statewide were instructed to limit orders to pickup and delivery. Some businesses had to reduce staff and hours to remain in business.

Even though pandemic restrictions have eased up, Joyce said Black-owned restaurants in the Chicago area are still having a hard time. “They’re dealing with staff shortages which means they can’t produce as much as they used to, so now the wait times are longer,” he said. 

Staff shortages are also impacting restaurant vendors, Joyce added. So business owners are paying higher prices for food, which raises the costs of menu items at restaurants. 

On Juneteenth 2021 Black People Eats launched its second annual Black Restaurant Relief Fund event. According to an Instagram post on June 1, $100,000 was raised last year. Joyce said, because of the 2020 summer uprisings and the pandemic, he believes there was much more awareness and willingness to support Black-owned businesses last year. 

This year, he’s only been able to raise $20,000 for the Black Restaurant Relief Fund so far. 

The funds will be used to help Black restaurant owners make repairs, pay their employees and cover the cost for any damages to their businesses. Joyce will distribute $5,000 each to four businesses, with the winners announced during Blaktober.

The TRiiBE caught up with Joyce ahead of the Blaktober kick-off to discuss why it’s vital to support Black businesses and the challenges facing Black companies with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity).

Why did you start Blaktober Fest?

Jeremy Joyce: I realized Black history is celebrated in other countries* in the month of October. So I wanted to do two things: celebrate Black excellence in restaurants, but also have restaurants create specials because the average family can’t always afford to go out to restaurants during the week. 

So, I asked restaurants to create specials so families can be able to afford to go out to restaurants on the weekend. And then, if they like it, they’ll continue to go to those restaurants during the week. It’s just a way to bring awareness to Black-owned restaurants and increase their revenue.

*Black History Month is celebrated in October in countries such as the United Kingdom and Ireland.

What can we expect from Blaktober fest this time around?

JJ: This year, we’re going to be primarily focused on restaurant specials, and we’re gonna have two brunch/dinner parties. We’re [planning to] have brunch on Sweetest Day and we’re going to have a dinner party on Oct. 30. But I haven’t finalized that. 

What kind of feedback did you receive last year from Blaktober festival?

JJ: From one restaurant owner in particular, her words to me was that she did not have enough money to make payroll and Blaktober specials that day allowed her to make payroll.

Why is it important to document and support Black-owned food spots?

JJ: It’s important to do that because in our community, our dollars don’t circulate like everybody else. We’re the only community where our dollar does not stay in [our community] as long as any other race. 

When we support Black restaurants, we support communities and when we support our communities, we allow money to flow. When money flows, we allow our economies to grow in our communities.

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.