Culinary awards: a ‘double edged sword’ for small community restaurants
A&A Bakes and Doubles, a family-owned Trinidadian restaurant in Brooklyn has won a James Beard Award.
The category–America’s Classics– is given to local restaurants that have been in business for more than 10 years. For a restaurant, it’s like winning the food Oscars.The accomplishment has its rewards: recognition, validation, and an avalanche of new customers. But as Andrea Salcedo finds, for small community restaurants, awards may also come with drawbacks.
((SOUND: Soca music playing — fade it after three seconds and play it under narration.
SALCEDO 1: When you walk into A&A Bakes and Doubles in Bed Stuy, the soca music booming from the restaurant’s speakers immediately takes you to the Caribbean. A glass case with fried flatbreads and spicy sauces sits on top of the counter. It’s a typical Saturday. The line at times reaches the door. Aisha Shillingford lives down the street. She’s thrilled about the award. But she also has some concerns.
SHILLINGFORD 1: I thought it was cool for my country to be getting recognition, especially a small local business, and I also felt trepidation that it would mean that this stuff would get gentrified.
SALCEDO 2: And the newcomers are easy to spot. They stare at the menu, puzzled. They’re not familiar with the restaurant’s specialty–doubles. Fried bread wrapped around savory fillings like shrimp or veggies. A couple of clients walk in and shake their heads before deciding it’s too packed today. They are not willing to wait. Most of the restaurant’s customers have Caribbean roots, like Shillingford.
SHILLINGFORD 2: I don’t want to come here and have the line full of hipsters that I can’t get any food.
SALCEDO 3: Some customers worry the award means prices will go up. Now doubles are as cheap as a dollar fifty. Shillingford says her worry is the restaurant will become crowded with customer who don’t value the food the same way she does.
SHILLINGFORD 3: For us it means a lot to be able to get food from home that we don’t make at home.
SALCEDO 4: Navya Dev is one of the new customers. She came after hearing about the award.
DEV 1: I think these awards highlight local communities and people who have shops that don’t necessarily have this crazy experience, it’s just about the food and I think that’s really awesome.
SALCEDO 5: I’ve talked to some people and they say, you know, ‘I’m worried that they’re trying to hype my local food…Do you see an issue with that?
DEV 2: I think that at a certain point that goes away and you’re back at a solid customer base. This is going to create maybe some consistent customers that are going to come back for the food…
SALCEDO 6: Mireya Loza teaches classes on the intersection of food and culture at NYU. She says awards have concrete benefits. Restaurants can expand, renovate and offer new dishes. But there are also downsides, like ‘self-proclaimed’ foodies.
LOZA 1: Often times, these foodies complain about service, about ambience, they complain about basically the core culture of the ethnic restaurant that they are arriving to.
SALCEDO 7: Loza says new customers entering a small ethnic restaurant should be respectful of the culture that may not be their own.
DISTEFANO 1: No one wants to feel like they’re in a zoo…
SALCEDO 8: Joe DiStefano, is a food writer and culinary tour guide based in Queens. He agrees with Loza.
DISTEFANO 2: You’re there to enjoy the food because it’s great. Not to get your next Instagram merit badge.
SALCEDO 9: Back at A&A Bakes and Doubles, Geeta Brown, a co-owner, says she’s happy. The award is attracting more customers and putting her home country back on the map. She says she has no plans to raise praises. As for some customers who’re worried about all the attention…
GEETA 1: Some are displeased, yes. But we try our best to please everyone, all of our customers.
SALCEDO 10: Chantal Louison, is a regular. She knows what she’s here for and she orders fast. She says she loves the food so much no matter how busy it gets, she’ll keep coming in.
LOUISON 1: Omg I love y’all food, y’all don’t understand , y’all have got me through like my breakups, my divorces, y’all have got me through life. I can’t imagine not eating doubles every week.
SALCEDO 11: Rushing to the door, Louison grabs 8 doubles to go. She says she’s happy to share her culture as long as the restaurant has enough doubles for her. Andrea Salcedo, Columbia Radio News.