The seventh annual food festival known as “A Taste of Ethnic Boston” is set to return on July 27. The festival, which will include a Dorchester bakery and other neighborhood businesses, aims to unite Boston’s most intrepid eaters under one roof while drumming up business for entrepreneurs of color.
More than 20 featured vendors from a variety of culinary and ethnic backgrounds will set up shop at Big Night Live, a venue by Boston’s North Station. Participants will have a chance to engage ravenous attendees with samples of their creations while networking for a larger client base.
“This year, A Taste of Ethnic Boston will serve as a reminder that people can use the power of their purse to help revitalize Boston’s restaurants,” said Colette Phillips, founder of Get Konnected, an organization working on the festival. Phillips’s group focuses on generating revenue and visibility for the city’s entrepreneurs of color.
“This is an opportunity to ensure an equitable recovery for all our neighborhood food and beverage establishments,” she said.
A percentage of profits from ticket sales will benefit the Boston Black Hospitality Coalition, which was selected as the event’s partner nonprofit for its efforts to preserve the Black neighborhood bars and restaurants.
The organization estimates that 90 percent of local neighborhood restaurant revenue comes from foot traffic and on site consumption, which became unfeasible for many small-capacity establishments amid social distancing guidelines and the stay-at-home orders during the height of the pandemic last year.
Sweet Teez, a Dorchester-based bakery, was one of many businesses that felt the financial destabilization of Covid time’ After experiencing its most profitable first quarter, Teresa Maynard, the shop’s proprietor said, “everything came to a screeching halt” in March.
That month, she packed up her wares and left the food business incubator at CommonWealth Kitchen on Quincy Street, and two months later, in May, she contracted tye coronavirus. It took her a month to recover so she could bake again.
“I had never felt so sick in my entire life,” she said. “But, toward the end, I thought that ‘if I live through this, I have to hit the ground running, I have to live my life to the fullest,’ and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
When Sweet Teez reopened in September, fortified by a $5,000 grant from the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA), Maynard noticed that customers often inquired about six-inch pies, smaller than the shop’s smallest standard size.
The bakery’s reopening had been discouraging, so she decided it was time for a “pivot” to corporate events and online sales.
The business used funds from the BECMA grant to purchase an Eddie® edible ink printer, which has already gotten plenty of wear-and-tear. Maynard also began to explore e-commerce, and, with the help of Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab, an eight-month Babson College accelerator program, she shifted her business model to become primarily delivery-based.
“The pandemic happened and it was terrible, but sometimes a shakeup is beneficial. It reorients your perspective,” she said. “Sometimes, when your hands are tied behind your back, you’re forced to get creative.
“For us, having to figure out a way to pivot was really a learning curve, but I feel like we came out better and more efficient than we were before,” she added.
Sweet Teez has been a featured vendor at A Taste of Ethnic Boston in previous years, but Maynard plans to approach the event with a fresh take this year. She’s still weighing whether to break out the logo printer and individually package her cupcakes, bite-sized edible advertisements, or to circulate her traditional offering: a sampler platter stacked with mini pies, brownies, and cakes.
Either way, her crowd-pleasing “tipsy cake” – a boozy recipe adapted from her Jamaican grandmother’s no-measurement, bake-by-heart culinary portfolio — is sure to make an appearance.
Three years ago, Maynard’s grandmother passed away at 102, leaving behind her granddaughter’s childhood memories of sharing the cake at Christmas. The batter has taken on new sentimentality. “Baking the cake and taking it out of the oven is like getting to hug her again,” Maynard said.
At the “Taste of Ethnic Boston” festival, Sweet Teez will be among the hundreds of what Phillips, the event organizer, calls “hidden gems”: Small businesses primarily owned by people of color and immigrants who are often overlooked by mainstream food industries.
Also slated for the event is the Cape Verdean joint Restaurante Cesaria, Fields Corner’s Pho Le, and Merengue Restaurant, a Dominican establishment on Blue Hill Avenue.
“Unfortunately, several of the restaurants we’ve previously worked with were unable to survive the pandemic; it devastated our restaurants,” said Phillips. “What we’re doing is raising money to support and to spotlight the restaurants that have surmounted this public health obstacle but may not get patronized like their counterparts in more affluent communities.”
With help from partners such as Big Live Entertainment, the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, Samuel Adams Boston Brewery, and CommonWealth Kitchen, Phillips and other sponsors hope to attract new customers to storefronts as they reopen.
“My takeaway each year is always a sense of utter joy,” she said. “There’s a certain satisfaction in writing a check and supporting institutions that are working to diversify the culinary ecosystem in Boston.”
Phillips added: “We’re not raking in money, we’re giving it away. The joy is in giving.”