Boom J Black-owned restaurants Montreal

Boom J

Support Black-owned restaurants in Montreal

Racism and xenophobia play a significant role in determining which restaurants will succeed and which will fail.

Racism in Montreal is alive and well. Despite Premier Legault’s denial of the existence of systemic racism in Quebec, the reality has never been more clear. These times call for drastic measures, but they also come at a time of increased confinement — two battles are being fought simultaneously. The fight for justice and racial equality is being fought in our streets while the fight for public health is being fought in our hospitals. The battles surrounding COVID-19 are omnipresent, but they are just another new obstacle to overcome in Black society’s fight for equality. The murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police is nothing new but its effect has moved the entire world, reopening old wounds for some — cutting deeper for so many whose wounds have never had a chance to heal. Anti-Black racism is real. It’s in our homes, schools, our houses of government. Its insidious nature is like an infectious disease that easily permeates society, often silently, and just like Covid-19, it can be passed on without the carrier’s own knowledge. 

Privileged white Canadians have been blissfully unaware of the pervasiveness of racism in our cities. For many, that ignorance persists despite the monumental and completely unambiguous evidence of racism’s stranglehold on society. Within the privileged white class are people who wish to participate in some form of allyship and solidarity. However, more often than not, these attempts at solidarity are co-opted by companies, brands and selfish individuals looking to take advantage of perceived allyship — what is being called optical-allyship, ie. the perception of support without action. It leaves potential allies feeling unsure about how to effectively contribute to the movement. Educating yourself and taking positive action are the most effective ways to demonstrate solidarity. There is an immense amount of literature to read on the subject, but sometimes the most meaningful education comes from engaging in a dialogue with the Black people you know. Listening is a powerful and woefully underused tool for self-improvement.

As for action, it can be achieved in a number of effective ways, from protesting, to donation, to aiding in elevating and disseminating information put forth by members of the Black community. It’s true that silence is violence and apathy is complicity but what’s most important is to be purposeful with how you choose to engage.

In my own life, I have been grappling with the conflict of not wanting to stay silent while also not wanting to occupy valuable space for Black voices. Before reading any further, follow my earlier advice: reach out to Black people in your network and try to engage in a dialogue, while recognizing that it’s not their duty to educate you — openness and empathy, however,  go a long way. You may also consider, should you have the means, donating to an organization like Hoodstock, BCRC, Destabyn, 0rijin Village, or any of the many others that exist. These are important local advocacy groups that need donations in order to continue their work. It’s a small action with a tremendous impact. 

As a food writer, I can’t help but reflect on the relationship between food and race. They are inextricably linked. Regionality, ethnicity and culture are all major influencing factors on cuisine. Food is also deeply political and racism and xenophobia play a significant role in determining which restaurants will succeed and which restaurants will fail. Nathanial Tull, the son of Lloyd Tull and current co-owner/co-operator of the Lloydies retail location, knows this better than most. Lloydies is a Caribbean foodstuff manufacturer and has been a black-owned, mostly black-employed business for 30 years. While Nathanial’s creative sensibilities and marketing savvy has brought much success to the Mile End restaurant location of Lloydies, his father’s business had to find success in building a company selling Caribbean food at a time in Montreal where to be considered any good, you needed to cook French food. 

Thirty years later, however, Western European cuisine is still dominant. The most reputed restaurants are still predominantly cheffed by white men and food that is labelled “ethnic” typically struggles to find elevation. We still expect “ethnic” food to be cheap and served in large portions — and in many cases it is. Part of that reason is that many Black-owned businesses cater, sometimes exclusively, to the Black community. In Quebec, a significant portion of the Black community work in low earning jobs while supporting families (sometimes up to three generations in one household) and so their money has to go further.

Carla Beavais at Lloydies Black-owned restaurants
Carla Beauvais at Lloydies. Photo by Celia Spenard-Ko

I spoke with Carla Beauvais, a Black entrepreneur and co-founder of 0rijine Village and she added, “When you think about the high rate of unemployment [in these communities], starting a business is a way to survive. You can’t find jobs so you have to create your own destiny. People open their businesses, not because they have the means, or the network, or the resources — they do it because it’s the only way to survive and provide for their families. Entrepreneurship is a way to emancipate yourself financially.” Restaurants open as a way to create employment and the food stays cheap because it services poor communities. 

Investment, or lack thereof, is another major impediment to the success of Black businesses. Without big backers, Black-owned businesses are rarely able to grow beyond mid-size, which in some cases prevents them from taking advantage of government benefits. It’s an issue Beauvais knows all too well. “My company was really affected by the pandemic,” she says. “We had to stop all our activities and we were not eligible for any of the support from the government because of the size of our business. I’m not sure we will survive.”

As a Haïtian Montrealer from St-Michel and a Collège Français alumni, she embodies a duality. Raised in a low-income Black community but private-school-educated, she has been able to fiercely reinvest in and promote her community. Beauvais’s advocacy group 0rijine Village works to help Black entrepreneurs and business owners harness the power of technology to grow their businesses. But even she is not immune to the economic effects of COVID-19. 

Restaurants in the Black community serve as both a cultural link and as a resource for individuals who endure 12- to 14-hour days, often working multiple jobs, and still serve as primary caregivers for their families. Due to the pandemic, the continued existence of these restaurants is threatened. Montreal North, a low-income neighbourhood with a high concentration of visible minorities (predominantly Haitian and Algerian) has established itself as a hotspot for COVID-19 cases. Restaurants in this neighbourhood that serve this community are struggling to keep afloat, often attempting to shift their businesses online and offer delivery, but lack the resources used by their white-owned counterparts to adapt their models. “[The pandemic] is affecting the industry really badly. A lot of restaurants aren’t online, they don’t have e-commerce, so some of them are trying to find ways, but it’s difficult. Some of my friends have already closed their restaurants — they’re trying to do other stuff, but most of them don’t have any access to any help, any funding. It’s a tough situation,” says Beauvais.

I have called on public support for restaurants recently in order to push businesses to survive past COVID-19. However, it’s even more essential to support Black-owned restaurants. Support now is essential not only to help businesses endure these hard economic times but also so that they can continue to be a source of employment for members of the Black community and a necessary resource to provide meals for low-income families.

For Beauvais, action is important but education and engagement are paramount. “ A lot of people tend to forget about the trauma and the psychological effects on Black people, when you put everything together at the same time,” she says, in regards to systemic racism, social upheaval and the pandemic. “It’s really tough psychologically. It’s one thing to say I’m going to make the effort and buy something at a Black-owned restaurant; it’s another thing to really understand what is going on in our society. If you just go and buy because you think it’s the right thing to do because of what you see in the news, you’re not really understanding how those Black communities are affected by systemic racism in Canada.”

Outside of financially supporting the restaurants themselves, encouraging these businesses means supporting their suppliers, who in many cases are also Black-owned businesses. It’s a complex and fragile ecosystem and its only means of survival is to generate, retain and circulate capital.

My Instagram feed a week ago was flooded with images of people repping their take-out — a pizza from Elena, fried chicken from Casgrain BBQ, usually accompanied by a take-out bottle of wine. Dinner for two, even at take-out prices, can run you close to $100. Why not spread the wealth? Diversify the reach of your take-out sphere to include Black-owned restaurants and put your money where your mouth is. Patronage of a Black-owned business not only benefits the business itself but it stimulates the Black economy — more business means more jobs, which means more money is circulating in the community which means there is more potential for future business opportunities. 

Beauvais, however, feels the societal reaction we’re living through is at its core an outpouring of white guilt. She believes that real, lasting change, begins within the Black community itself. “We know how to reach out to our community and we have a responsibility to our children to be able to provide for them. More and more you see people in the community that have a network come together for the better good of the community. I consider myself Québécoise — I have a different skin colour, but I am Québécoise. But I know the realities of my community — I know my brothers and sisters are struggling, I can’t look at them and do nothing. It needs to start with us. If we can have other people come with us, great. It’s not about black or white, it’s about our society — if you do better, it’s good for everybody.”

Being an ally is about actively trying to do better, and sometimes something as simple as buying dinner can be an act of solidarity. For Beauvais, it all comes down to creating opportunities through entrepreneurship. “If you want to send you kids to a good school, if you want to provide food for your family, if you want to buy land, if you want to build a legacy, you need to have financial stability and you can have it through entrepreneurship. So the gesture to buy Black is to make sure that the tools and the means are available for the community to better themselves.” 

Fourchette Antillaise Montreal Black-owned restaurants
Fourchette Antillaise

It’s also important to add that while supporting Black-owned restaurants is politically and socially important, it is foremost a delight. There is a truly deep variety of food available, and from my experience, I have rarely eaten anything from a Black restaurant that I did not thoroughly enjoy. This is not meant to be a cry of, “Woe-is-me, white-saviour come and rescue the Black restaurant scene.” It’s simply a case of there being excellent food to be had being made by Black cooks in Black-owned restaurants, and the simple economics show that by spending your money there, you are also contributing to the promotion of racial equality.

As has already been stated, many Black-owned restaurants lack the resources to promote themselves outside of their communities which means that it can be difficult to identify and therefore order from Black-owned restaurants. In the past week, a number of organizations, including the Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund (MTLRWRF) have shifted their efforts to helping promote Black-owned businesses. The fund’s guiding principles are based on wealth-sharing and reallocation of funds, and they have extended their mission to include drawing awareness to systemic racism in the restaurant industry and creating tools — like a handy list of Black-owned restaurants — to lend support and visibility to the industry. 0rijine Village and their new project UP (Unite and Prosper) is also currently building a directory of Black-owned businesses that can be contributed to and accessed here. Another resource for locating and engaging with black-owned restaurants is via, which is an e-mail account dedicated to sharing and contributing to their own list of Black-owned restaurants.

All the lists are works in progress and openly welcome submissions and suggestions. MTLRWRF’s document also includes a wealth of sources for education on race via links to important social media accounts, links to organizations, podcast recommendations and links directly to individual community organizers. Additionally, Rachel Cheng, who is perhaps better known by her instagram handle @Torontrealaise, hosts a series of round table discussions on the intersections of food and race in an aptly named series FoodXRace. Her most recent edition is a conversation on the foods of the African Diaspora where she speaks with Chef Paul Toussaint (Agrikol), Ornella Tanous and Jean-Phillipe Vézina about the food of their families and the way they eat, cook, grow and create.

Now is a time for reflection, education, and action. The resources are there, the rest is up to you. We can do better. ■

For more about the Montreal restaurant scene before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, see our Food & Drink section.