When Alexis Brown first started the Black Pepper Food & Wine Festival (BPF&WF), she discovered that there were more than 200 black-owned businesses in South Florida. From that, Brown — the co-founder of the BPF&WF and Social Xchange Miami, an event company that she co-founded with Joel Franklin — believed she had more than enough to start a Black restaurant food festival.
In 2019, the first BPF&WF was held in Overtown with more than 20 Black businesses and over 2,000 people in attendance. There was a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19. However, during the hiatus, Brown met Brian Barker, Endowed Professor of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, and the two formed a partnership that led to the festival being held at the Chaplain School.
“It is important to show the community that the Chaplin School is here to support the Black community holistically. Additionally, Black consumers have nearly $1 trillion in gross national income, yet only 2 percent is reinvested into Black communities. Internally, it’s important to show our current Black students, faculty and staff this scale of engagement with the Black community. We are thrilled with our partnership with Alexis, Joel (Phuse Cream), and Social Xchange Miami,” said Barker.
Over 70 businesses applied as vendors, but for logistical reasons, only 40 were selected. Festival vendors included a diverse range of businesses, from brick-and-mortar shops to food trucks, to chefs starting their own businesses. More than 3,000 community members attended the BPF&WF at the Biscayne Bay Campus earlier this month, enjoying delicacies from all parts of the Americas, including the United States, Jamaica, Trinidad and the Bahamas.
“We want to normalize supporting Black businesses and circulating the black dollar as well as giving them a platform to share their products and create an ecosystem where black business owners can network and apply and qualify for grants from the county and various nonprofits,” said Brown.
FIU’s partnership with the BPF&WF is designed to ensure that Black businesses have the support and the platform needed to be successful. The BPF& WF also helps vendors prepare for similar events and festivals. According to Brown, some Black businesses do not have the infrastructure or the know-how to prepare for a festival where patrons spend less than five minutes at one booth, particularly brick-and-mortar businesses.
Trevor Escoffe Jr., owner of the Oasis Express food truck and a 2014 graduate of the Chaplin School, truly understands the importance of this event and what it means to small businesses.
“Being a part of this event just for black businesses is great. It is a platform to get recognized for your brand and let people know we are here, and we received a lot of support, and the turnout was amazing,” said Escoffe.
Escoffe has owned his food truck for five years and this was his first year at BPF&WF. He has worked several events in South Florida and has now worked both FIU’s Juneteenth Freedom Day Celebration and the Black Pepper Food & Wine Festival.
“I am glad to be back at FIU. It’s where I got my education and learned a lot of my business principles and I can’t forget my home,” said Escoffe.
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