As a transplant from Miami, Fla. now living in the Northeast, I often am asked the ever-present question: “Where are all the Black people in Boston?” This question no longer takes me by surprise; I expect it. The answer to that question is for another article.
Boston is home to American history; it’s known as a college hub, mecca for tech start-ups and a city known for top-tier medical institutions. Though, many people may not realize there’s a thriving community of Black-owned businesses changing the bustling city’s narrative with respect to its cultural diversity.
In addition, many often think Boston lacks diversity with its tumultuous past of bussing that desegregated schools in the 60s and 70s, however, there’s a cultural and economic renaissance that no doubt Black businesses have contributed to the Boston community.
When I thought about several businesses that have opened in the last several years around the city, I was eager to highlight them in this guide. I knew whom I wanted to reach out to for leads on some of Boston’s leading Black-owned businesses. I tapped a few friends in the food and beverage industry for leads.
I also had a chance to discuss Boston’s renaissance of Black businesses with a local entrepreneur and UX designer, Peter Edouard, and its importance. Edouard shared that being a Black business owner “means being aware of the unique opportunity and access to a market of people who look like me. My unique advantage is cultural currency.” Edouard’s sentiments are echoed by countless business owners taking the leap into entrepreneurship.
The Black businesses and experiences highlighted in this guide are close to my heart because they and so many others are actively helping to change the narrative in Boston.
Arts & Culture
Boston Art & Music Festival
The Boston Art & Music Soul Festival (BAMS Fest, Inc.) started by Catherine Morris, is run by a team of volunteers with the goal of creating an inclusive platform for Boston’s local talent. BAMS Fest is a nonprofit organization with the goal of breaking down “racial and social barriers to arts, music and culture for marginalized communities of color across Greater Boston.” This year’s headliner was Grammy-nominated singer, Eric Roberson.
While in town stop by Frugal Books, Boston’s only Black-owned bookstore located in Roxbury. They recently hosted author and founder of The Imagination Agency, Martellus Bennett, for his latest book “Dear Black Boy.”
Celebrating its 7th year, LiteWork Events has hosted countless day parties, brunches, mixers, and networking events that connect young Black professionals in Boston. Founder Farrah Belizaire started LiteWork Events as a way to create a space for Boston’s Black professionals outside of their 9-to-5. Belzaire’s events take the guesswork out of meeting new people so you can ki-ki with your faves while also forging meaningful relationships.
Roxbury International Film Festival
In its 21st year, The Roxbury International Film Festival brings the local community together for film screenings throughout the city. The Roxbury International Film Festival has drawn directors and actors such as Sheryl Lee Ralph and Morris Chestnut and many more in the 21 years since its inception. Lisa Simmons, festival director celebrated receiving ‘Best of Boston’ for the best film festival this year.
Black Market Dudley
Black Market Dudley is a retail pop-up market located in Dudley Square owned by philanthropists, Christopher and Kaidi Grant. The Grants have created a space for local Black entrepreneurs to “revitalize Boston’s Black Creative Economy.”
Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen
For a fun night out with friends, head to Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen for libations, great food, and jazzy throwbacks from local musicians who perform weekly at this Boston staple. Nia Grace, owner of this Boston gem in Roxbury, took over in September 2018. Try their fried catfish and collard greens and leave room for their delicious red velvet cake.
Chef Douglass Williams owns MIDA, an Italian-influenced restaurant in Boston’s South End neighborhood. Come for unique dishes and an inviting ambiance.
Ripple House Cafe
Ever have a dream of opening a coffee shop with your best friend and living the dream as an entrepreneur? Well, Elle and James, owners of Ripple House Cafe started their business 2 years ago in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood and haven’t looked back. The coffee-loving duo greets customers and makes it a point to remember their names. They always have a stellar playlist, delicious vegan pastries and equally delicious cookies and baked goods.
Shea Butter Smoothies
Shea Butter Smoothies is a new smoothie and juice bar whose health-conscious motto, “moved by health, influenced by taste” serves the Mattapan community, Boston’s southernmost neighborhood. Try their popular “Bad and Boujee” or “Sunshine Riddim.” Both are my favorites on their menu.
Slade’s Bar & Grill
Owned by Darryl Settles, Leo Papile and Terryl Calloway, come here for authentic Southern food and connect with old friends over wings and drinks. Slade’s Bar & Grill is a staple for local Bostonians, especially with live entertainment every evening.
The Urban Grape
Recently awarded “The Best of Boston,” TJ and Hadley Douglas own this popular beer, wine and spirits shop that offers free weekly wine tastings. The Urban Grape is a great place to start if you’re heading out on the town with family and friends.
Wally’s Cafe Jazz Club
Wally’s Café Jazz Club has been around for decades and hosts jam sessions and performances nightly since opening in 1947. The cafe is owned by Joseph L. Walcott who left his homeland of Barbados and immigrated to America in 1910. Wally’s is among the oldest family-run jazz clubs in Boston. It is a coveted jazz venue by music legends and Berklee students who sharpen their musical chops during weekly jam sessions. Catch famed trumpet player Jason Palmer performing here on the weekends.
A Taste of the African Diaspora
When you walk into Flames, the smell of spices and stewed meats fill this popular Jamaican restaurant. Get your Jamaican baked goods and jerk chicken with rice.
Boston’s West Indian community is just as diverse as it is rich in culinary traditions. The city boasts several Haitian restaurants and one of them is Natifnatal. When I am in the mood for a home-cooked meal, Natifnatal is where I come for a slice of home. Try the diri djon djon, a rice dish prepared with dried mushrooms or their griot, a deliciously seasoned fried pork shoulder. I always order pikliz, a spicy, pickled cabbage-based condiment that pairs well with most meals if you enjoy a dish with more heat. The white rice, black bean gravy with legumes and stewed vegetables with meat is a childhood favorite.
Suya Joint is known for authentic Nigerian cuisine. Come here for jollof rice or egusi stew that will make any Nigerian auntie beam with pride.
This Haitian bakery has been a staple in Boston’s Caribbean community for over 30 years. On Sunday afternoons the line snakes out the door with churchgoers in search of a taste of home.
Lenny’s Tropical Bakery
Another Boston staple, Lenny’s Tropical Bakery serves some of the best Jamaican food. Locals know it simply as Lenny’s. Come here for beef patties with coco bread and stewed oxtail with rice. Located in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood, this family-run business has been serving authentic Caribbean cuisine for the past 40 years.