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How many Black-owned restaurants in Philadelphia do you know about? Twenty-five? Fifty?
According to a crowdsourced database inspired by the protests against racism and police brutality, there are at least 150 spread across the city (see map below).
It’s not surprising if you can’t name many off the top of your head.
Black-owned food establishments don’t often bask in the national attention showered on Philadelphia’s dining scene. Many spots are neighborhood favorites and haven’t sought out promotion, while others just aren’t keyed into the public relations-media loop.
Several local food writers and editors have been working to change that. “There has been a huge push to show more representation in the dining world,” said Kae Lani Palmisano.
An editor with USA Today 10 Best and host of “Check, Please Philly!” on WHYY-TV, Palmisano, 31, has been managing the Philly-area edition of Dining at a Distance, a database put together to support restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis.
Palmisano calls herself a “white passing person of color.” Her mother is of Black and Native American ancestry, she said, and her family has experienced plenty of discrimination, but it “pales in comparison to the violence that Black communities face.”
Last week, as the country swelled with marches following the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, Palmisano took note of another crowdsourcing trend.
“There are great apps that already highlight Black-owned restaurants,” she explained, mentioning Eat Okra, Black and Mobile, and Eat Black Owned, but the new efforts popping up were consolidating all that info for each city into easily-accessible lists.
Working off a template shared by restaurant critic Soleil Ho of the San Francisco Chronicle, Palmisano and collaborator Jenn Hall started their research.
On Sunday, May 31, Hall and Palmisano posted their findings to Twitter. Things really took off when they shared the list to Instagram two days later, Palmisano said, gathering momentum and getting included in national food blogs.
That’s when South Philly resident Charles Rumford came across the spreadsheet, and decided to visualize it.
“I was having a hard time with mentally mapping where the locations were,” said the 33-year-old IT architect, who currently works at Penn. “As someone who is quite visual…having the locations on a map made it easy to reference where everything was.”
The coolest part about the map Rumford built — embedded here and available at blackownedphillyrestaurants.com — is that it’ll stay updated even as the spreadsheet continues to grow.
And it is growing. Separately, Temple alum Ron Holgado has been curating a doc with all kinds of Black-owned businesses, and he agreed to merge the restaurants from it with Palmisano’s list, she said. Individual suggestions are also still rolling in.
“All of this has been distressing and exhausting, since none of these conversations are new,” Palmisano said. “I have the platform to lift up the businesses who deserve to be celebrated. I’m not perfect and I have been learning a lot about the privileges that come with my own multi-racial background, so I’m trying my best to use the power that I’ve gained for good.”
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