EXCLUSIVE: This Caribbean restaurant owner explained why the tastiest way to normalize African food is at Toronto’s ByBlacks Restaurant Festival
Nicole Charles-Page is one of three sister owners of SugarKane in Toronto. Their Cajun and Caribbean style menu begs to be eaten sprawled out on the patio while joking with friends. These days people flock there for the good black food – yet there was a time when no one had a clue they existed.
(Scroll down if you just want to see the delicious black food you can get in Toronto for a limited time…)
Lack of visibility is common among black-owned businesses. Owners struggle to start the business, struggle to be recognized, and struggle to bring people in.
The sad reality:
Charles-Page told 6ixBuzz that early on, when she came to “peek into a building to see if [she and her sister] wanted to have SugarKane there, there was another white gentleman there. The real estate agent came straight up to him and gave him a full tour of the space. After that, he approached us and said, “What can I do for you? We said “We’d like to take a look at the venue” and he said “Yeah, go ahead”. So we didn’t get the tour that the other person got and it could have been because we’re black or because we’re female. We did not receive the same attention.
“We’ve had racist encounters, we’ve had sexist encounters, all that stuff,” she summed up, “Of course it discourages us, but we have to think bigger about why we’re here doing this. And keep it up.
“Because of the ByBlacks festival, people know us better,” she said, explaining that this was SugarKane’s third time at the event. The festival is “a highly curated opportunity to experience Black-owned dining establishments in Canada,” particularly African, Caribbean and fusion cuisine.
The social good behind food:
The idea came to fruition in 2020 when the George Floyd protests rocked the United States and Black Lives Matter surged with unprecedented urgency.
“It’s about how the world views black people,” Charles-Page said, “Did we support them? If not, maybe black businesses aren’t getting the exposure they should be getting. It’s maybe a little harder to open. It might be a struggle because of racism. And on top of that, if you’re a woman, there’s sexism. There’s a lot of barriers. on the path of black people trying to open businesses and support them.
George Floyd’s outrage has finally died down, but COVID-19 is panicking too much, much longer.
“There was less awareness of black businesses — when COVID hit it got even harder,” Charles-Page said of the struggle to retain customers.
The antidote, she suggests, is “to go on social media and promote, post lots of photos and create a buzz.” Part of that buzz is the ByBlacks festival and that means an end goal is for people to go out and try the food.
The other end goal is to normalize dark food.
What does this really mean? It’s about getting familiar with the food and the culture in general.
“You would see it pretty much everywhere. Going out to eat in a Caribbean restaurant or an African restaurant would not be a special occasion or a foreign experience. If it was normalized, everyone would have gone there several times, ”explains Charles-Page.
It sounds like a pleasant (and delicious) reality.
Something for everyone:
As a teaser for the ByBlacks festival, we’ll show you some of the best spots to visit. If you want to see all of the participating restaurants in Ontario, check out ByBlacks’ Instagram.
For example, go intercontinental with your palette by trying these pan-African flavors from Afrolicious.
If you are vegan, vegetarian, and or just like an Eritrean/Ethiopian twist, try chickpeas.
If you’re looking for black American food, SugarKane has a Louisiana Cajun influence in its Caribbean cuisine. They also have fusion food like the best selling jerk chicken fettuccine alfredo.