Soul Food and Much More: Black Restaurant Ownership in the Bluegrass

Black consumers are key target for savvy restaurateurs

Click here for list of Black Owned restaurants in the Bluegrass 

By: Patrice K. Muhammad

Lexington has seen a surge in the number of restaurant offerings. From local owner-operated eateries to national chains with locally owned franchises, there are a wide array of choices in town.

Similarly, there is a surge of Black owned restaurants in Lexington, now offering an unprecedented variety of cuisine.

Sav’s West African Grill and Cuisine, Tchoupitoulas Creole, Kentucky Blended Nutrition (Herbalife Shakes and Smoothies), Eiffel Pizza and traditional Soul Food are among the locally curated flavors by local Black restaurateurs.

However, all restaurateurs are not chefs or cooks.

A new crop of Black owned franchises has emerged in town and these restaurants are, in most cases, part of a larger portfolio of businesses owned by Black led corporations.


Franchising Opportunities

When Kenneth Moore purchased the Clarion Hotel at Athens-Boonesboro Rd. and I-75 in Lexington, he chose to upgrade the attached restaurant.

Moore, who owns other hotels with attached eateries, chose a franchise restaurant for the location on the outskirts of town.

“I brought Bennigan’s to Lexington because we’re way out here and there’s no other restaurant except (fast food),’’ said Moore who felt the area needed some “life and excitement.”

Franchising is Moore’s business model of choice. Besides the Clarion and Bennigan’s in Lexington, Moore has Hilton, Marriott, Best Western and Wyndham brand hotels in other states.

“To me when you buy a franchise, all the heavy lifting is done. The menus, concept, design. Go in, pay the fee. Makes life a whole lot easier,” he said.

Bar Louie is back in Lexington and is the latest anchor restaurant at Fayette Mall. Now a Black owned franchise, Jackson8Five9, LLC is the majority owner of the local family business. Featuring pub style food with weekend brunch and a Kid’s menu.

Chili’s Grill and Bar has been a mainstay in Lexington and the two franchise stores are part of the huge Manna, Inc. group of quick service restaurants. Ryan Bridgman, son of Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman, is now head of the Louisville based company that sits at #6 on the Black Enterprise 100 list which owns more than 100 Chili’s and more than 250 Wendy’s (none in Lexington).

Mark’s Feed Store in Beaumont is also under the Manna umbrella.

 The Downside – Competition

Ray Daniels, had 15 years’ experience as a Senior Vice President with Waffle House Corporate and was ready to leave the corporate ranks but not leave the organization. “I managed over 100 stores on the corporate team and was a franchise liaison,’’ Daniels said.

“The attraction of franchising was ownership, which means control and freedom in what you do and how you do it. I wanted to create jobs and opportunity.”

Daniels relocated his family to Lexington and purchased an existing Waffle House franchise from the Howard family (formerly Howard’s Kitchen) in June 2008.

After successfully operating multiple Waffle House locations in Central Kentucky, and nearly a decade of experience, Daniels acknowledges there are pros and cons associated with Lexington’s bustling restaurant climate.

“Lexington is a(n) eat out market. Most large chains have a presence in town. It is a good market, but saturated. That’s why you are seeing some of the turnover in restaurants. The saturation makes for heavy competition for hourly talent.”

The Upside – Black Patronage

In recent Nielsen reports, sixty-two percent of African-Americans say they buy based on quality, not price, 77% say that when they find a brand they like, they stick to it, and 66% say that if a product is made by a company they trust, they’ll buy it even if it is slightly more expensive.

Technomic, Inc. a research and consulting firm that focuses on food and related products and services published a report earlier this year, 2017 Fare: The Business of Food which pointed out key ways to attract the loyal Black consumer.

Sixty-five percent of Black adults eat take out weekly compared to 58% of whites, with 54% of Blacks seeking high quality take out. Presentation and hot food delivery are a priority for Blacks compared to 46% of whites.

Blacks have money to spend but only fast food chains seem to want it.

Food companies disproportionately target their TV advertising for fast food and sugary drinks to young Black and Hispanic children, according to a report released by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut. Many advertisers presume that ethnic minority children are decision makers of family food choices. The study found the same restaurants had low-fat milk, yogurt and other healthy items targeted toward white mothers, whom they presumably perceive as the decision maker.

Full-service restaurants have not targeted Black families despite data showing Black families spend more and eat out more often.

In Nielsen’s new Diverse Intelligence Series report, the global consumer data collector paints a portrait of Black women as trendsetters, brand loyalists and early adopters.

Black women were labeled as trendsetters because of their desire for change and new experiences. 68% agree they seek out variety in their everyday life (27% higher than non-Hispanic White women) and restaurants are part of those experiences.

Ninety-two percent of Black millennials reported eating at a quick service restaurant in the past 30 days, barely outpacing the overall percentage of 91% of millennials eating out in a month.

As Black owned and non-Black owned restaurants struggle to carve a space for themselves in Lexington’s crowded food service market, targeting Black consumers could net business-saving results.

Black Owned Restaurant List