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How Memphis’ Soul Inspired Black Restaurant Week Founder Cynthia Daniels

How Memphis’ Soul Inspired Black Restaurant Week Founder Cynthia Daniels
Photos by Justin Fox Burks

Bright Idea, Big City 

Ten years ago, Cynthia Daniels decided to take a chance on Memphis. She’d been laid off in her hometown of Atlanta, and saw the city as a fresh start. An experience helping manage social media for a minority-owned restaurant opened her eyes to a reality in town: Black-owned businesses typically lack the resources to market themselves in today’s landscape. In 2016, she founded Memphis Black Restaurant Week—seven days of dining specials aimed at increasing patronage and profits—to help change that.

What sets Memphis apart as a food city?

There’s a certain soul when you come to the city of Memphis. When you move here, you realize barbecue is a yearlong thing. And the soul food culture is really big. I think it goes back to during the civil rights [era] when there was segregation; people poured a lot of love into food because they weren’t able to eat anywhere else.

How did Memphis Black Restaurant Week come about?

[In 2015,] I met Fran Mosley. She wanted to open her own restaurant, and asked if I could help her with social media. At first, it was booming. And then there was no traffic. I said we should get in newspapers, radio spots—things that are very expensive. She shared with me that she had poured her life savings into opening the restaurant. That’s when I realized it. Black-owned restaurant in Memphis were considered a “hidden treasure” because they poured their life savings into it.

You used that momentum to start your own company, Cynthia Daniels & Co. Is Memphis an entrepreneurial city?

A lot of young professionals are launching their own companies. You’ve got tech companies, artists, boutique online businesses, newer brick and mortars. Once Black Restaurant Week took place and I saw the potential, I realized maybe I could start a business.

What’s your perfect day in town?

I would start my morning by the Mississippi River, where you can see the sun rising over the bridge. Breakfast at the Arcade downtown—Elvis used to eat there back in the day. I would do some shopping in the Medial District. There’s a new store [that hosts] pop-up shops in shipping containers. I’d have lunch in Overton Square, where there’s a lot of hip restaurants. And I’d see a play next door at Hattiloo Theater—it’s the only black repertoire in the region.

Read more about Memphis in our city snapshot.