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Memphis Black Restaurant Week bigger than ever despite COVID

In it's 6th year the dining event promises new ways to enjoy from delivery to take-out.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — Sunday marks the start Mempbis Black Restaurant Week.

No one could know this time last year how much was about to change with COVID closing those restaurants for weeks even months.

This year Black restaurant owners are expecting the dining event to give their businesses the jolt they need.

With 21 Black owned restaurants participating Memphis Black Restaurant Week founder Cynthia Daniels says as tragic as COVID has been.. it's changed the profile of the event now in it's 6th year.

"This year is actually the biggest year that we've ever had," said Daniels.

BMRW will be COVID-19 safe adding an array of ways to enjoy with some restaurants trying out delivery by apps for the first time.

"The emphasis shifted just a little bit where you have to pick up your food or get it delivered. You don't get the same dine-in experience, but you still get to support a really worthy cause," said Daniels.

For Patrice Thompson, owner of the historic Four Way Restaurant in Soulsville Memphis Black Restaurant Week is the grease needed to get things cooking after COVID forced her dining room to close for 46 weeks.

"Because of Black Restaurant Week we're going to attempt to open on Sunday the dining room with limited seating, but that's one thing that's changed tremendously. I miss it. I miss serving customers face to face," said Thompson.  

Thompson's family, the bates, bought the Four Way from Irene and Clint Cleaves, the restaurant's original owners since 1946 about 20 years ago. 

"It was Ms. Cleaves dream to own her own business. Her husband was a personal chauffeur for E.H. Crump who was Mayor at the time," said Thompson.

A time when Jim Crow laws didn't allow Blacks the luxury of the in-dinning room experience.

With the Four Way the Cleaves created something rare in Memphis that Thompson and her team continue today. 

"She made it a point to make sure everyone was welcome here. Anybody could dine here. It didn't matter who you were. Where you came from," said Thompson.

The restaurant's reputation for having the best soul food around and a frequent stop for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other notable figures kept the orders up until COVID.. but Thompson is hopeful. 

"2020 Black Restaurant Week was absolutely amazing. I am forever indebted and grateful to Cynthia Daniels. She is a blessing," said Thompson.

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