- Faith & Family
Dorsey Educational Center in Liberty City was the site for a very special day last week. In fact, it was a first for the school and the community — a taste fest of sorts featuring several Black-owned restaurants in Liberty City and Little Haiti. But it’s just the beginning if City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, the Liberty City Trust, N.A.N.A., Buy Miami biz and a few others have their way.
“We wanted to promote the restaurants in the area and to encourage people to sample the menus and then tell their colleagues, peers and others,” said Dr. Angela Thomas DuPree, who took over as the Center’s principal last August.
And while the 1,000-plus adult high school and vocational training program does not have a culinary program, DuPree and Spence-Jones are hoping to incorporate one into the curriculum soon.
A few of the businesses that participated last week are over 15 years old while others have been open less than two years. One thing they all have in common: getting a steady clientele to come through their doors. The taste fest was a way of giving them greater exposure.
“Imagine if we got groups from churches, businesses and non-profits to support our Black-owned restaurants just once a week,” Spence-Jones said. “People have to eat every day. Instead of supporting fast food restaurants that don’t give back to our community, why not support our own businesses?”
It’s tough to be the boss
Blessed Catering [5711 NW 7th Ave.] opened in 1997 and moved to its current location seven years ago. Owner Denise Ross’s specialty items include: cabbage and collards and potato salad.
“We’ve tried to have jazz nights, breakfast and other novel ideas but keeping a steady line of customers is still our greatest challenge,” she said. “Give us a chance and you’ll keep coming back.”
Devillien Lubin and Chef Marie is the tandem that own Leela’s Restaurant [5650 NE 2nd Ave.] where they feature Haitian-American cuisine with an added “healthy approach.”
“We need more people to check us out –once they do they’ll see we use less grease, less salt and have a more gourmet-like presentation,” they said. “Our food tastes good and it’s healthier too.”
Louis Famous Foods’ [1482 NW 7th Ave.] owner Roderick Louis, 50, was born in Liberty City and grew up in Overtown. He’s been serving his stewed conch, ox tails and crab and rice specialty for over 20 years.
“Our task has been to maintain the standard that we’ve set in this community,” he said. “We’ve sponsored essay contests for students, held taste tests for kids and even had folks like the late Tupac frequent our business. Our goal is to keep getting better.”
The Bahamian Pot [1413 NW 54th St.] is another community fixture says Laynette Jackson, daughter of the owner, Trudy Ellis.
“Trudy’s boiled fish and grits, steamed conch and macaroni and cheese are longtime favorites,” said Jackson, whose mom has been in business for 25 years. “We represent several different cultures in our tastes and while business is pretty good, it could be better. People forget that small businesses help support their community. But we need the community to support us too.”
Another restaurant that features authentic island cuisine is the Bahamian Connection [4400 NW 2nd Ave.], whose doors have been open for 37 years.
“We offer a unique experience and take you back to the islands with conch salad and other items that are second-to-none,” said Gayle Ingraham, one of the cooks and wife of co-owner Phillip Ingraham.
Other restaurants in the area include: Shantel’s Lounge [5426 NW 7th Ave.]; Shrimp Wings & Things [5843 NW 17th Ave.] and the iconic Jumbo’s Restaurant [7501 NW 7th Ave.] They’ll all be part of the next taste fest. The restaurants hope to soon begin purchasing items collectively with one distributor so they can reduce their costs and therefore pass that savings on to their clients, according to Leroy Jones, executive director N.A.N.A.
“The goal is to help our businesses by using the strategies of a cooperative,” he said.
“We can’t let another Black-owned restaurant close,” Spence-Jones added. “If we don’t find more creative ways to help them stay in business, who will?”
Malika Wright contributed to this article.
By D. Kevin McNeir