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Photo: M.K. Koszycki
Photo: M.K. Koszycki

DMV Black Restaurant Week Highlights Local, Black-Owned Businesses

From November 4 through 11, Washingtonians will be able to enjoy good eats and empowering signature events poised to tackle issues of diversity and inclusion in the restaurant industry. The inaugural DMV Black Restaurant Week will highlight black-owned restaurateurs, chefs and caterers in the region, with 20-plus locations serving discounted deals or prix fixe menus for $25 or less.

“We want to be able to create a platform,” says cofounder Erinn Tucker, who describes the new restaurant week as locally grown but globally aware. “We want to use this opportunity to really give back.”

Tucker, a Georgetown University professor for the Master’s in Global Hospitality Leadership program, is one of three restaurant/hospitality veterans behind the already well-received and well-publicized event. She’s joined by Andra “AJ” Johnson, who is in the process of publishing White Plates, Black Faces, a book that puts a spotlight on black culinary talent and addresses cultural neglect in the industry. Third cofounder Furard Tate worked as the chef for H Street-based Inspire BBQ before it closed and is now getting ready to open Brookland’s Love Market, a business designed to train those between the ages of 19 and 25 in a fast-casual restaurant setting.

“I’ve watched this city change and have been a part of it as a business owner as well as a resident,” Tate says. “I know this city, so this is something that we have been collectively working on for awhile. We want to educate the community [on how to] support these restaurants, because a lot of them are closing. An educated consumer is a much better consumer.”

Po Boy Jim’s Jeff Miskiri says he’s hopeful the restaurant week will be advantageous for newer establishments participating in the event, including his five-year-old Cajun restaurant on H Street.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he says. “It’s not just about me. It’s about everyone coming together as a whole.”

DC icon Ben’s Chili Bowl is also participating, and cofounder Virginia Ali says it’s spectacular that the District has so many restaurants representative of various cultures across the globe.

“DMV Black Restaurant Week is something new and exciting for Washingtonians to come and enjoy, and hopefully it’s going to grow over the years,” she says.

The restaurant week’s three signature events include a kickoff networking opportunity on November 4 at the Union Oyster Bar and Lounge near Union Market, the R. R. Bowie Bartender Club competition on November 5 at Service Bar in Shaw, and the Business of Food and Beverage Education Conference on November 10 at the University of the District of Columbia.

Conference panels will range from “Workplace Culture: Rethinking the Workplace” to “Miseducation of the Black Diner,” including discussions on important topics like employee safety, tipping, stereotypes of the black diner, and treatment of the black server.

The theme of the bartending competition is “Black History Makers of the DMV,” and contestants will pay tribute to the DC area through their cocktails.

Participating restaurants will not only be able to enjoy continued support from the community, but also from their peers like the Restaurant Association of Maryland and National Restaurant Association.

“We’re not just letting people [try] the food,” Tate says. “We’re also helping these restaurants sustain themselves [through] our allied relationships and partnerships.”

Plans are also in the works for quarterly programming to further bolster the local restaurant community, according to Tucker.

“In five years, we really see this as an initiative [that becomes] a signature event for the globe,” she says. “We are a global city. We are a global environment. People will be traveling in for this particular event.”

The full roster of restaurants, bars and other spots participating in this year’s DMV Black Restaurant Week has not yet been announced but check www.dmvbrw.com for updates. Follow the event on Twitter and Instagram @dmvbrw.

Note: DMV Black Restaurant Week is in no way affiliated with Black Restaurant Week, LLC, which plans on expanding to the District in 2019. The event is also not the first of its kind in the area. In 2015, a Black Restaurant Week was organized by ABlackLife LLC and New York-based I DON’T CLUBS brought Black-Owned Restaurant Month to DC.

Photo: www.shannonandtheclams.com
Photo: www.shannonandtheclams.com

Shannon and The Clams Triumph Over Tragedy on New Album

Shannon and the Clams were well into recording their sixth album, Onion, when tragedy struck their hometown of Oakland, California. A fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse claimed the lives of 36 concertgoers and musicians that night in 2016 – many of them friends of the Clams. The event shook the DIY community of Oakland, and its aftershock was felt in similar creative spaces throughout the country. While their album had already taken shape, bassist and vocalist Shannon Shaw tells me how the group ended up incorporating the fatal fire into their new release.

“I don’t know if [guitarist and vocalist] Cody [Blanchard] felt the same way as me, but I wasn’t sure if I should or not,” Shaw tells me earnestly. “It was one of those things that me and the other people in that world have experienced. It was just on everyone’s mind all the time, and it still is, really.”

I can hear in her voice that while this is something the greater DIY community may have moved on from, it’s now forever ingrained in the fabric of their hometown. Shaw confirms my silent guess.

“It continues to f–k people up.”

In an act of healing – not just for the Clams, but for all of Oakland – it was weaved into Onion, released earlier this year.

“It became this thing were it would be weird of us to not write about our feelings,” she continues. “To me, that’s what music is: a diary that is important to share because it brings people together and sometimes brings people relief. I felt like I would not be being myself if I didn’t express myself in regards to the fire. God, I’ve written a lot of sad songs in my time, but when I wrote these, they were more for other people.”

Shaw and Blanchard have had different feelings in the wake of the fire, but both felt their band could express the way in which it affected them through music.

“I wanted people to know it was okay to feel everything,” Shaw explains, “and to be open about it and to try and grasp and remember all the amazing ways they’ve influenced our scene, and to let people know they won’t be forgotten. Cody’s take was to explain the plight of the artist, and what it’s like to be forced into the shadows, and all the cool and amazing things that happen in the shadows that people miss. I think that ended up being this really unexpected part of the album. Obviously, we didn’t know that was going to happen and we had a lot of material. But when it happened, that event took over.”

Even though Onion’s subject matter is deeply personal and at times heavy, the album does not stray from the Clams’ trademark brand of 60s-inspired, R&B-tinged psychedelic pop. When I ask her about how moments on Onion manage to be musically fun even when lyrically sad, the idea of music being a mirror to everyday life resurfaces.

“The lyrical content is there, but maybe trying to mask the vibe, but also I kind of think that’s a metaphor for life. Nothing is completely black and white, and using art or music as a tool to reflect that – the big picture or the full scene – that comes naturally.”

Their signature sound was fortified further with the help of Dan Auerbach, frontman of The Black Keys, and a fan of the Clams. Before the band signed to Auerbach’s Easy Eye label, Shaw embarked on a solo journey to his Nashville studio as part of his Easy Eye Sound Revue and to record her solo album. An incredibly accomplished musician in her own right, Shaw notes that her newfound creative partnership with Auerbach kept her on her toes.

“The Dan stuff threw me for a loop, because it’s a totally different world. It’s the big time. I come from the DIY punk zone. I’m comfortable in those shadows. I think to be somewhere shiny and pro instead of recording in a bedroom was intimidating – it’s just as simple as that.”

Shannon later returned to Nashville, the Clams in tow, to mold Onion into the lush and layered gem it became with Auerbach by their side.

“Dan is so good at seeing the big picture, and he also has this huge mental catalog – and really good taste – of sounds and instruments. He could just listen to our songs – which were already pretty good – and have these ideas for things we’d never even thought of. He just knows how far you can take a song: how many layers of stuff [and] how many guitars can you get on there before it’s too much.”

The band’s roots, their “shadows,” were not forgotten in the sparkle of a new producer and album, though. Shaw explains what she’s most looking forward to on the tour they’re about to embark on, and it’s not the big cities that thrill her.

“There’s a tiki bar out in Wilmington, North Carolina, and they have a big dock. At the end of the dock they have bands play right over the ocean. They’ve been asking us to play for years and it’s just never worked out with our routing and our schedule to go all the way out to the beach and play, so we’re doing that this year and I’m so excited. I’ve never played over the water.”

It’s clear that the Clams are on to their next adventure, with hope in the face of tragedy and shimmering sounds in tow.

Catch Shannon and the Clams at U Street Music Hall on Thursday, July 26. Big Huge and Gauche open. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15. And don’t miss the after-party with DJ Baby Alcatraz and Rob Macy at Dodge City. Doors at 10 p.m. Free.

U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St.NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com // Dodge City: 917 U St. NW, DC; www.dodgecitydc.com