For the past five years, both local and global gourmands deliciously planned to eat their way through Harlem at one of the country’s largest cultural food festivals, Harlem EatUp! This year, they are planning for a different yet still memorable experience. An experience with a collaborative focus on raising money for non-profits that serve Harlem, its residents in need and restaurants that continue to fight their way through a pandemic that has proven to be beyond devastating.
Community Supporting Community
By the start of the year, event producers and organizers were well into the planning stages for their 2020 events. This includes celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson and business partner Herb Karlitz who together founded Harlem EatUp! in 2014. The festival, which represents all things Harlem, was set to welcome back festival-goers during the third weekend in May. However, as COVID-19 caused the country and businesses to shut down temporarily, with some having to close their doors permanently, in-person events were also forced to cease operations.
“Spring for Red Rooster is a very busy time because we go into all the graduations and into Harlem Eat Up! our food festival and we knew obviously with COVID this year that we had to pivot and do something else,” says Samuelsson, who turned Red Rooster into a community kitchen in March. Through his partnership with chef José Andrés’ organization World Central Kitchen, Samuelsson along his team and other restaurant partners have provided more than 200,000 meals to the community, media and first responders.
That something else Samuelsson speaks about is Harlem Serves Up!, a one-hour TV special airing on ABC Saturday, July 18 at 7 pm EST. After two months of planning, viewers can look forward to incredible cooking demos, musical performances and a closer look into Harlem restaurant destinations such as LoLo’s Seafood Shack, Charles’ Pan Fried Chicken, Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too and Settepani to hear firsthand how they have been affected by the pandemic and how everyone can continue to support them.
“This is a very, very important endeavor,” says Samuelsson. “We had a vision, then it really takes people from all sides of the community. We need the corporate people to step up, we need the hospitality community to step up, but we also need the celebrities to take their valuable time and say, ‘Hey, this is for Harlem.'”
And so they are. Tamron Hall and news anchor Sandra Bookman will co-host the evening with special appearances by Michael B. Jordan, former President Bill Clinton, Kurtis Blow, Common, Sheila E, Dave East, Doug E Fresh, Kevin Liles, Ralph McDaniels, Isaac Mizrahi, D-Nice, MJ Rodriguez, Bevy Smith, Trey Songz, Justin Tuck, Mary Wilson, Deborah Joy Winans and more.
Proceeds raised from the evening will benefit Citymeals, World Central Kitchen, Harlem Park to Park and Uptown Grand Central with Humana, who is the presenting sponsor, matching up to $250,000.
The Fight to Survive
Around the world, businesses are feeling the crushing blow of COVID-19. As many continue to struggle to stay open and provide for communities and their families, the impact on those owned by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) continues to unveil the inequities that have existed long before the pandemic was declared earlier this year. Harlem Serves Up! is determined to do something about it. “This year, given the pandemic and its disproportionate impact on communities of color, we repurposed our efforts to create this television and online fundraiser to promote businesses in Harlem, “ says Karlitz.
According to Regina Smith, CEO of Harlem Business Alliance, “Lacking access to capital and critical business networks, Black businesses were struggling to survive prior to the pandemic. Federal small business stimulus funding, the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), failed to reach many Harlem businesses. Those few businesses that received PPP funds found it woefully inadequate and the conditions for loan forgiveness difficult to meet. With a forecasted closure rate of 40% for Black-owned businesses, we must do everything we can to save the precious few survivors.”
Resilience is a word that the community of Harlem knows well. During the televised special, Samuelsson says you will see, “how the community really came together and fought back from this very tough pandemic that has taken grip of the nation.”
Not sure of what lies ahead for the restaurant industry, one thing Samuelsson is sure of is that the support of one another is vital.
“I don’t know how we are going to come back as a community. I just know we have each other and we just need to keep supporting each other.”
Harlem Serves Up! airs Saturday, July 18 on ABC at 7 pm EST. For more information on the event as well as how to donate, visit www.harlemservesup.com. You can also follow along on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.