Black Restaurant Week offers a taste of Madison’s black-owned eateries

The fourth annual event features a new kickoff jamboree offering foodies a chance to sample cuisine from participating restaurants, food carts, and caterers.

Excellence is on the menu for the fourth annual Black Restaurant Week in Madison.

The event, which begins Sunday, Aug. 11 and runs through Sunday, Aug 18, is an annual celebration of local black businesses. This year’s theme, “Harnessing the Power of Black Excellence,” is the distillation of the economic impact black-owned restaurants have on the city of Madison.

Sponsored by the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce, Black Restaurant Week has become a popular tradition for local food lovers. It’s also one of the oldest Black Restaurant Weeks in the nation, according to organizer Milele Chikasa Anana, who is perhaps best known as the publisher of Umoja magazine.

“The goal for Black Restaurant Week, as always, is to promote our black-owned restaurants and to raise awareness of different restaurants that people may not be used to normally dining in,” says Anana. “Some specialize in soul food, others in Caribbean, and still others in vegetarian.”

This year’s event includes numerous restaurants, food carts, and caterers or dessert makers. Nearly all of the food services from last year are returning, the award-winning CocoVaa, which relocated to East Washington Avenue, McGee’s Chicken, which opened a second location in Sun Prairie, and Kingdom Café, which specializes in West African food on Sherman Avenue.

New this year is the Black Restaurant Week Jamboree, a kickoff to the event that features caterers and food carts. Taking place from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 9 at the Badger Rock Community School, attendees can enjoy $2 food samples, music, and fun for the entire family. The food carts will be located on the grounds of Badger Rock, while the brick-and-mortar restaurants will be stationed inside.

“We look forward to giving Madison a taste of what they will enjoy during the full Black Restaurant Week,” notes Anana.

Markos Regassa, owner of Buraka, has participated in every Black Restaurant Week. Buraka, which serves Ethiopian cuisine, began as a food cart located at the library mall in 1992 before moving to a permanent location first on State Street and then more recently to its current Williamson Street home. Since those early days, Regassa has noticed a big influx of black restaurants to the Greater Madison dining scene.

“I think this has opened up the public’s appreciation for traditional foods in black culture,” says Regassa. “Not only do we have diversified cuisine in the local area, we also have wonderful chefs.”

Buraka certainly offers diners a change of pace from the more traditional Wisconsin fare of brats and cheese curds.

“With serving Ethiopian food, our dishes are full of spices including coriander, curry powder, berbere, garlic, and ginger,” notes Regassa. “We have a mix of mild and spicy foods, depending on the comfort level of our customers, and we serve a variety of dishes including curries, stews, and salads.

“Every restaurant can serve dishes with chicken, beef, and lamb, but the biggest difference is the art of putting it together,” Regassa continues. “In our restaurant, we have an artistic way of putting dishes together that is a bit different than other establishments.”

As for why he keeps coming back to Black Restaurant Week, Regassa says he enjoys the exposure the event gives local black businesses to the broader community.

“All of the publicity brings more people into the restaurant, with many becoming repeat customers. Madison is great at supporting its small businesses.”

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