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by Ann Clanton, “Speak-Up” contributing writer
Photo: BLAZE ON SMITH HILL owners with Mayor Jorge Elorza at the opening of the restaurant. Courtesy, Cory at RI Comedy Connection.
Meet the women of color behind these Rhode Island restaurants
The restaurant industry is historically a strong driver of entrepreneurship. As we prepare for the holiday season of family get-togethers and office parties, I want to take this time to amplify the explosion in black/women-owned restaurants in Rhode Island.
From traditional southern comfort and island traditions, trends indicate that women owned restaurant businesses grew at a rate more than three times faster than the overall restaurant industry in recent years, according to newly-released data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Kin, owner of Southern Table and Bar in downtown Providence, Blaze on Smith Hill, Hummingbirds in Newport, and Sommer’s Corner on the Providence/Cranston line – these eateries of soulful and Caribbean delicacies have arrived and are thriving, despite COVID-19.
Bringing the love that came from their mothers’ and grandmothers’ recipes, these restaurants are offering up a slice of their upbringing and southern roots. Sommer Duffin, owner of “Sommer’s Corner” at l1230 Elmwood Avenue said, “I’ve been cooking since I was 8. My mom taught me, so I’ve really been in the kitchen for a long time.”
Southern Table and Bar is serving a heaping of grandmother’s favorites and an auntie’s specialty drink of Sweet Tea and red Kool Aid with Raspberry Stolichnaya, affectionately named “Black Girl Magic”. Owner, Julia Broome is serving up dishes and biscuits, all specialties served at Sunday dinner at her family’s Norfolk, Virginia home.
Regulars at Kin’s since the opening in March 2021 are University of Rhode Island and Providence College Basketball Coaches and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. For Thanksgiving they are doing Turkey dinners, stuffing, vegetables, and pie. They serve brunch, lunch, and dinner daily, Tuesday thru Sunday. Go online to place an order, make a reservation, or event request at 270-3100.
A fusion of eclectic cuisine, Blaze-Smith Hill describes the change in menu and business model from Brooklyn Coffee Tea & Guest House, its predecessor, as “very organic, and it feels like a community”, says Phyllis Arfa, about her latest restaurant venture . With a culinary career that spans over three decades, this is the latest chapter for the former owner of Blaze East Side, Blaze on Thayer, and Blaze Village Kitchen and Haven Hill Cafe.
In the spirit of understanding the neighborhood, they are instituting an internship program in partnership with Johnson and Wales University and the Providence Career and Technical Academy’s (PCTA) culinary program. Working with curators to create a virtual art gallery and building an outside kitchen are part of Blaze-Smith Hill plans for expansion in 2022.
While the pandemic has provided a challenge for the restaurants, the owners have met the challenge and are survivors. A national trend shows 33% of restaurant businesses are majority-owned by women – up from 26% in 2007. Today, nearly half of all restaurant businesses in the U.S. are at least 50% owned by women. As Rhode Islanders prepare for Thanksgiving and the holiday season, remember these restaurants are waiting to set your holiday table with a diverse menu of traditional southern and Caribbean cuisine – from baked macaroni and cheese, collard greens, cabbage, baked chicken, fried chicken, jerk chicken, to curry shrimp – all waiting for you.
Ann-Allison Clanton was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. As principle of Ann Clanton Communications, Ann has more than two decades of experience as a communications and public affairs consultant. She has written features and profiles articles for the Providence American Newspaper and Ethnic Online Magazine.
Among the notable persons interviewed include former U. S. Ambassador Andrew Young, Dr. Cornell West, former Florida Congressman Allen West (R-FL) and Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus first African American Ringmaster, Johnathan Lee Iverson.
Ann is the founder of the Rhode Island Black Film Festival and a founding member of the Southern New England Association of Black Journalists.