Many people who missed out on the electric joy of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival relived the experience while watching the 2021 award-winning “Summer of Soul” documentary. An acclaimed restaurant duo hopes to deliver the same exuberant energy of that New York party in a park at the 3rd Annual BayHaven Food & Wine Festival (BFWF) in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“We want to celebrate being free. Not just being free as in no longer being slaves, but being free to do whatever we want to do, how we want to do it,” says Greg Collier, co-founder of the BayHaven Restaurant Group and multi-James Beard Awards nominee. He and his wife Subrina Collier, began thinking of a “Black Woodstock” vibe for their annual festival after seeing the jubilant film directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.
The chef and co-owner of Leah & Louise and Uptown Yolk describes the festival feeling he and partner Subrina have in mind. “Being free and Black tends to be a revolution, depending on what you are talking about. Being able to say how you feel, dress how you feel and speak how you feel tends to be a big thing.”
BayHaven Wild and Free 2023
The BayHaven Food & Wine Fest will be a four-day celebration from Wednesday, October 4 through Sunday, October 8. The festival’s signature dinners, symposium, tasting tent, pig roast and brunch are being held at different locations, including a park in the center of Charlotte, Johnson and Wales University, Embassy Suites and restaurants owned by the Colliers.
“We want people to come through looking like hippies. We’re doing a gala and hope people come in their afros, bell bottoms and all their ‘60s and 70s regalia,” Chef Collier declares.
The festival will kick off with a family-style dinner that the chef mentions some of the 2,000 attendees missed. “I don’t think we had that family-style event last year, but that is the one that was the most requested. So we’re doing it again this year,” says the Charlotte restaurateur.
The “It’s a Family Affair Community Fest” will unite people from all walks of life in the same African American neighborhood where the Colliers live. Chef Greg shares what makes the opening event a community celebration.
“We work with a local community organization, and they bought a certain amount of tickets. They’re going to give out tickets to community leaders who have been living there 50 years and folks who just moved in two years ago. We will have a really good mix, a family-style dinner.”
Collier and fellow James Beard nominee Cleophus Hethington, who goes by Chef Ophus, will prepare the family feast highlighting different cuisines. Hethington’s work at Ashville’s Benne on Eagle earned him recognition as a Beard Emerging Chef semifinalist in 2022. This is the third year he has brought his culinary talents to the BayHaven festival. “You go to a lot of these food festivals, and Black chefs are underrepresented. To be a part of something where the focus is on Black chefs, food and culture was something important for me to be a part of,” Hethington says.
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One of the new events planned for BayHaven Wild & Free 2023 is the “Mother Earth: All Ladies Chef Dinner” on October 6. It will take place at 3rd & Fernwood, the Colliers’ new restaurant expected to open in late November. Leah & Louise’s Courtney Evans will join Quientina Stewart in heading up the all-female chefs preparing Friday’s dinner.
Leigh Events and other festival planners want to recognize women as the ones who drive revolution and growth in the culinary world. It also represents the depth of participation festival co-founder Subrina enjoys. “I’m always most excited about the fellowship. It’s truly a hospitality reunion of many layers: food, drinks, media, education, and visual and musical arts.”
Still on a Mission
Around 50 chefs, mixologists and other talents are coming to Charlotte to support the BayHaven festival. One reason is the Colliers’ involvement is so much more than restaurant ownership. They are passionate about networking with other Blacks in the business. They are still on a mission envisioned from the start of their partnership: promoting and supporting other Black chefs and hospitality professionals.
Chef Ophus emphasizes that the networking is not always about what is on a plate or in a glass. “A lot more comes with this business than the food and alcohol served. It’s the relationships, the people and the reputation that you establish and build.” Greg and Subrina are doing a great job without the major support the various Food & Wine Festivals get or big-name celebrity chefs attending.
Chef Greg recalls the sage advice legendary chef Joe Randall gave him on attracting the most celebrated names among Black culinary achievers. “He said, ‘You need to talk to the people who are going to do what you need them to do at the festival, and not the people you think are cool to call.’”
Some of BayHaven festival’s loyal supporters have been recognized by the James Beard Foundation, respected food critics or major publications. Chefs Adrian Lipscombe, Ederique Goudia, Lisa Brooks, Spring Council, Jamie Barnes, Josh Lee, Keith Rhodes, Lamar Moore, Ricky Moore, Jerome Grant, Armani Johnson, Martel Stone, David K. Thomas and others are returning participants.
One of the events coming back to BFWF for a second year is the panel discussion aimed at sharing the insights of top culinary achievers. “This year, we’re going to talk about solutions and ways we can find to help bridge the gap or move the conversations we’ve been having forward,” Chef Collier indicates.
Award-winning author and food journalist Toni Tipton-Martin and food activist Dara Cooper are among the recognizable names participating in the “Make Food, Not War Symposium” on October 5.
Chef Elena Lundy and a student culinary team from Johnson & Wales University will prepare lunch for the attendees. Greg expresses his appreciation for the university’s involvement. “It will be on the Johnson & Wales campus again. We knew they were going to be a great partner. They’re letting us use space to prep and host the symposium.”
Besides the symposium, “Everybody is a Star: Tasting Tent” is expected to be the most sought-after ticket. Festival goers can walk around and sample food and beverages offered by more than 50 chefs, mixologists and other talents. “I think it also gives a little more focus and shine to our unknown chefs. I always tell people that the best chefs in the world are those you might never know, see on TV or read about in an article. Often, that is Black and minority chefs,” Chef Ophus adds.
Ticketholders for the Saturday, October 7 event can watch live cooking on a demo stage or root for their favorites in the new Battle of the Food Cities. Chefs from Charlotte, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, the Washington, D.C. area (DMV), and other cities will compete for the BayHaven Best Food City trophy. “We wanted to find a way to make the Tasting Tent more exciting for the guests and chefs. Everybody wants to brag that they have the best food city,” Chef Collier says.
A family-friendly event with no alcohol served will be held at Community Matters Café on October 5. Some of the proceeds from the Au Naturale Spirits-Free Dinner will support the recovery services the café helps provide.
Those interested in lunch can attend Up in Smoke: Pig Pickin and Oyster Roast on Friday, October 6. Chefs Josh Lee and Adrian Lipscombe will lead other chefs in preparing the outdoor feast in Charlotte.
Festival tickets start at $100 for single events or $202 for multiple events. They are available on BayHaven’s website. The last day for online purchases is Monday, October. 2.
Community, Camaraderie and Connections
The Colliers do as much as possible to compensate the chefs and other professionals participating in the festival. In addition to assisting with travel and accommodations, the co-founders try to give their supporting crews time to relax.
Saturday night’s Love, Feast & Soul Gala and Afterparty will be that occasion. “It’s like an old school college party with a DJ playing music, beverages flowing, and people really opening up and having fun,” says Chef Collier. “That’s a great moment because it’s a moment for release. Everybody has worked so hard to do so much putting on the festival and putting events together.”
Saturday night’s BFWF and Serving the Culture presents Serving the Soul. It will feature an amuse bouche prepared by Chef Jamie Barnes, music from the 1960s and 70s, multiple food stations with chef-prepared food, cocktails, wine and dancing.
“It’s like an old school college party with a DJ playing music, beverages flowing, and people really opening up and having fun,” says Greg. “That’s a great moment because it’s a moment for release. Everybody has worked so hard to do so much putting on the festival and putting events together.”
The BayHaven festival’s last event is usually sold out. This year, the Embassy Suites staff will serve the food at the “Boogie Down Brunch and Day Party” on Sunday, October 8. Chef Ophus shares what he likes about the downtime. “Just the joy and excitement of being around other Black chefs. Just getting the chance to commensurate, congregate, laugh, and joke is what I enjoy.”
The bond Hethington built with the Colliers over the years has developed into a new business venture. Bon Appetit lists Greg and Subrina’s 3rd & Fernwood at Metropolitan Charlotte as one of “BA’s 10 Most Anticipated Restaurant Openings of Fall 2023.”
Hethington will lead the kitchen and collaborate with Chef Collier on the menu. “While Greg focuses more on the southern aspects of Black food with a little bit of the worldly ties, I focus on the entire diaspora in Latin America, Black America and Africa,” says Chef Ophus.
Chef Collier expands on the restaurant’s concept. “We’re going to combine our ideas on 15 recipes that will be classics, and everything else will be what he wants to do based on the seasons or wherever he’s getting ingredients from. I’m super excited to give him the space to do what he loves.”
The new restaurant, the festival and other BayHaven Restaurant Group projects provide platforms for more Black chefs and culinary talents to achieve their dreams. That is the ongoing mission the Colliers hope to continue accomplishing.
“The mission has always been economic empowerment and community development through the hospitality industry. I think we will always push and work towards that goal,” Subrina says. Her husband, Greg, agrees. “I think doing all these things has created a space where people don’t have to explain what they’re doing or who they are. They just cook what they want and create the space they want.”