Dressing up on “Sunday Funday” and restaurant-hopping for chicken and waffles, endless mimosas and DJs playing hip-hop are a few hallmarks of the growing trend of “Black brunch.”
It was 97 degrees on a recent Sunday in Houston, and Amelia Baines and Tikijah Parsons were hitting their second brunch of the day. The two Black women came from a restaurant called Kiss about 10 minutes away to continue the celebration of Parsons’ 29th birthday on the patio at Chapman & Kirby.
“Brunch is like our fellowship,” said Baines, 31, as Sheck Wes’ “Mo Bamba” blared in the background. “Whether it’s after church, or even if you don’t go to church, it’s just a reason for us to put on makeup and get pretty. It’s just a part of our weekly stuff that we do.”
Brunch has become weekend ritual for many Black millennials in Houston, and restaurants are either opening or revamping their menus to take advantage of the trend. Dubbed “Black brunch,” the hallmarks include flashy attire, Black artwork and music, making the experience and the environment just as important as—if not more than—the meal. The trend, which has proved durable during even the worst of the pandemic, is spreading in other brunch hotbeds such as Atlanta and Washington. Folks like Baines and Parsons enjoy dressing up for the occasion: a highlighter-green skirt, plush earrings and a clutch with a peacock-wing pattern were some of their accouterments.
Black brunch is especially about the music, sometimes curated by live DJs, with hits by artists ranging from Babyface and Beyonce on the R&B side to Megan Thee Stallion and Moneybagg Yo on the rap side. Sunday has emerged as the flagship brunch day in Houston. Known as “Sunday Funday,” it typically involves diners like Baines and Parsons visiting multiple establishments for the chicken and waffles, endless mimosas and, most importantly, good vibes.
“When you come into Houston for the weekend, don’t leave on Sunday,” said Rican “Big Reeks” McGusty, a longtime Houston DJ. “Because Sunday is the turn up.”
Brunch has been around for a long time, established more than a century ago as a midday Sunday meal that gave Saturday night revelers a chance to sleep late and smooth out their hangovers. In Black culture, it’s long been a meal that followed church services. Black millennial women have driven a resurgence in recent years, transforming brunch from an after-church, buffet-style social gathering to a fashionable, Instagram-worthy party while the sun is up.
“From the general public’s standpoint, they really only look at [brunch] as a restaurant combining breakfast and lunch menus,” said Warren Luckett, founder of Black Restaurant Week, which partners with about 1,200 Black-owned restaurants in 60 markets. “Black culture is the culture that has really elevated that experience.”
Houston’s brunch scene is special because of the concentration and variety of Black brunch offerings, Luckett said. Black-owned establishments there that cater to the trend include Taste Bar + Kitchen, The Breakfast Klub, Trez Bistro & Wine Bar, Lucille’s, Bar 5015, Prospect Park, Davis Street at Hermann Park, and Kamp.
Money to be made
For those venues, focusing on Black brunch has proven, so far, to be a money maker, especially on weekends.
At Chapman & Kirby, a busy Sunday will bring in 1,500 customers and up to $100,000 in revenue, according to Rob Wright, who’s Black and a partner in the business.
At Taste Bar + Kitchen, which opened in 2019 and serves brunch every day of the week, annual sales were $6 million in 2020 and $8.5 million in 2021, according to owner and chef Don Bowie. The restaurant is located in a century-old former residence, and Bowie said he has plans to open two other locations to help reduce weekend wait times that can sometimes reach two or three hours.
At Lucille’s, demand for brunch is changing how chef-owner Chris Williams operates the business. The 85-seat restaurant offers lunch and dinner in addition to brunch on the weekends, but earlier this year Williams replaced his Friday lunch menu with a brunch menu. Williams said sales during the traditional Friday lunch hours are now 40% higher.
Williams said he plans to open a restaurant in Canada that also offers brunch. “We’re like brunch experts,” he said. “We’re really excited about introducing that to our Canadian neighbors up there … and providing that party kind of vibe.”
In Atlanta, Barney “Pancho” Berry is the Black owner of the 225-seat Breakfast at Barney’s, which he said he started in August 2020 with initial inspiration from Houston-based restaurateur Marcus Davis. Berry said the company did more than $1 million in sales in its first four months. One of his brunch offerings is a $1,000 “Mansa Musa tower” that includes gold pancakes, lobster and grits, chicken and waffles and a bottle each of Ace of Spades and Perrier-Jouët champagne.
“Nobody was creating a restaurant concept based around brunch,” he said. “So that’s where I saw my niche.”
Ashleigh Shanti, a Black chef and restaurateur in Asheville, N.C., plans to soon open a fish fry restaurant and is considering a brunch menu based on what she’s seeing in other cities. “It shows me that we have the power to create narratives,” she said about Black culture, “and we have the wherewithal to shift the way places do business.”
Brunch has special historical roots in Black culture, from both culinary and social perspectives.
The meal itself is a hybrid between items traditionally served for breakfast, like waffles and grits, and protein typically served at dinner, like chicken and shrimp. Adrian Miller, an award-winning author and culinary historian, said dishes such as fried chicken and waffles date to the late 1700s.
“People like Thomas Jefferson, on a Saturday morning or Sunday morning and as part of a hunt breakfast, would have fried chicken and waffles, rolls, Virginia ham and other things,” Miller said. “Enslaved Black cooks were the ones making this food.”
Miller said brunch has been a natural outlet for Black people to socialize after church. While brunch today may not be as tied to churchgoing as it once was, the cultural significance remains–including for younger generations of Black Americans who may have more disposable income than previous generations.
“Because of the wealth gap for a lot of folks, going out to fine dining restaurants was not a regular thing,” Miller said. “Now we’re seeing a lot of upwardly mobile Black people who are foodies. And so this is another way to express their love for food and get together with friends.”
Davis, who inspired brunch restaurateurs in Atlanta and other cities, is the founder of The Breakfast Klub and considered one of the pioneers of the Black brunch scene. In business for two decades, his restaurant gained national notoriety for dishes like catfish and grits, and it has hosted guests including Serena Williams, Beyonce, Jay-Z , Kevin Hart and Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Davis launched his company partly due to the contrasts in experience when he visited jazz clubs followed by traditional all-day breakfast chains.
“So you were in these warm, cozy, fuzzy comfortable places that were appealing to the eye, ear and soul,” Davis said. “But when you went to eat, it didn’t match because you would normally end up in some light, bright, cold-ass place.”
While several brunch establishments have emerged in Houston in recent years, some play more to the party crowd and others cater more to diners. Shawntell McWilliams, owner of Trez Bistro & Wine Bar, said she experimented with different styles of Black music before settling on a more relaxed environment. “They come to Trez to eat the food and pregame to start their Sunday Funday,” she said.
Word of Houston’s Sunday brunch scene has spread to Black communities across the country, and for a lot of out-of-town visitors to Texas’ biggest city, brunch is a must-do agenda item.
Katelyn Krisel of Detroit was in town for a wedding, with the brunch spot Kamp on her phone as part of her itinerary. “It’s a girls thing,” she said. “We like to get dressed and go to brunch.”
Texas was one of the states with the least restrictions during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. And for brunch establishments in Houston, that meant an influx of visitors from other states, said Nynechia “Chef NaNa” Afriyie, the manager at Bar 5015. “We almost transitioned into a tourist spot as far as our brunch,” she said.
Covid restrictions on nightlife in Houston prompted nightclubs with kitchens to pivot to offer brunch, said Luckett of Black Restaurant Week. Meanwhile, radio DJs and their followers from cities on lockdown came to Houston to be able to party and have brunch, observers said, and do so without staying out too late.
“I get to get together with my friends that I haven’t seen in a long time,” said Jessica Terry, 34, who was visiting Houston from Indianapolis. “We get to have the best of both worlds. We get to eat, we get to party and we get to go home–at a decent hour. I’m getting old.”
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