By Meghan Holmes
Special from the Louisiana Weekly
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – A recently released smartphone application for Android and iOS allows users to connect with more than 800 Black-owned businesses across the United States, including dozens in New Orleans.
Developer Anthony Edwards released EatOkra in response to his own search for African American-owned restaurants in Brooklyn, and the app’s reach grew as he learned about more places across the country.
“My fiance and I kept finding ourselves directed to the same restaurants: places that were hip and trendy,” Edwards says. “We would look at blogs and stuff online to try to find African and Caribbean food, and there were resources like blogs, but nothing was all compiled together. I was a recent computer science graduate and knew I wanted to make an app, so she and I decided I should make something connecting people to Black-owned restaurants.”
Edwards points to a smaller social media footprint and less marketing capital as two reasons that many Black-owned businesses have less exposure.
“I think a lot of it comes down to money. A lot of Black-owned businesses are family-owned; they are mom and pop,” he says. “They do all the work themselves, and often in retail spaces that aren’t shiny and new, which people often tend to gravitate towards when looking for places to eat.”
The app’s name itself is a tribute to Black history. “We chose okra because it was a common seed slaves brought with them during the slave trade,” says Edwards.
Even today, okra continues to play a significant role in Black culture, life and cuisine, especially in places such as New Orleans, which has local restaurants listed on the EatOkra app that run the gamut. There is Jamaican food like 14 Parishes and Boswell’s, well-known soul food establishments with decades of experience like Dooky Chase and Willie Mae’s, and, newer restaurants offering refreshing versions of traditional New Orleans food, like Heard Dat Kitchen and Morrow’s New Orleans.
“I think EatOkra is a great concept, and it’s great to see a growing awareness of how important it is to support Black-owned businesses in New Orleans. I see it as vital to the growth of our community,” says Lenora Chong, executive chef at Morrow’s (which she co-owns with her son, Larry Morrow).
“I’m Korean and African-American, and I’ve been in New Orleans more than 30 years, where I learned to cook classic New Orleans cuisine, which is my favorite thing to eat and prepare,” Chong says, “but my mom made sure I didn’t forget our Korean heritage and customs, and that eventually came to share a space on my menu as well. I see my experience as a true melting pot, and food is a way to share that.”
Morrow’s opened on St. Claude Avenue in the Marigny in 2018, and offers classic New Orleans dishes like chargrilled oysters, gumbo and BBQ shrimp, as well as Korean-inspired offerings like spicy chicken lettuce wraps and bibimbap. The space is fresh and open, with large windows, greenery and a wide, wooden bar with a pink neon sign behind it.
In Central City, another restaurant on EatOkra, Heard Dat Kitchen, serves New Orleans-inspired food from a take-out window, with a few tables out front.
Chef Jeffrey Heard Sr.’s family business appears humble from the outside, but the food is elevated and refined with affordable price points. Heard Sr. spent decades working front of house in hotels, and his son and kitchen lead, Jeff Jr., had a stint in the kitchen at Houston’s in Metairie.
“Our two most popular dishes are the Superdome, which I came up with, and the Bourbon Street Love, which my son came up with,” Heard Sr. says.
“The Superdome is gulf fish with lobster mashed potatoes and a lobster bechamel topped with fresh corn and onion rings; and the Bourbon Street Love is traditional baked macaroni and cheese topped with fried chicken thighs and a crawfish cream sauce. My style of food is traditional. I call myself a pot cook, but, it’s elevated.”
Heard and his family hadn’t heard of EatOkra, but the family supports the app and hopes it will expose more people to their business.
“When I came up, I worked in white tablecloth, fine dining restaurants; I never saw Black people owning those restaurants. This is a hard business to be in, but I want to work up to that, and have a fine dining restaurant that my family owns, and I want to see more Black families owning restaurants like that,” he says.
The EatOkra app is available for download on Android via Google Play and for iOS in the Apple App Store. More information on the app is also available at www.eatokra.com.