Wednesday, Feb. 18, Harlem Park to Park (@HarlemPark2Park, HP2P) presented the third annual Harlem Hospitality and Culinary Conference, newly set at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (@SchomburgCenter). Much like the previous two years at the Studio Museum of Harlem, the Schomburg Center provided a rich environment for discussion, debate, conversation, connection and celebration.
Guests arrived on time for a continental breakfast followed by a welcome address by HP2P Executive Director Nikoa Evans-Hendricks and board member Beatrice Sibblies. Councilwoman Inez Dickens then took to the podium to talk about leveraging culture to market local neighborhoods, citing working together as a community as the most important tool in our arsenal.
The program began with the keynote panel looking at the Harlem Renaissance in two parts, “Then” and “Now.” “Then,” moderated by Shola Lynch, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and the newly named curator of film for the Schomburg Center, invited artists, historians and Harlem arts institution executives to reminisce about what made Harlem great, unique and compelling. Lynch got emotional when discussing the sense of community and support she felt while producing her latest film, “Free Angela & All Political Prisoners,” calling Harlem “her village.”
The second part of the keynote, “Now,” brought together the executive talent of Harlem arts institutions and asked them how we stay relevant in this changing environment and encourage people to come to Harlem. Sade Lythcott, CEO of the National Black Theater (@NatBlackTheater), cited developers as focused on dividing Harlem into neighborhoods instead of building community. She encouraged us to become knowledgeable about current rezoning initiatives and to support our existing institutions to ensure the arts and culture of Harlem as we know it remains evident and alive.
Before moving into the first group of breakout panel discussions, Harlem Legend Awards were presented to “Pioneer of the Year” Leon Ellis, of Chocolat restaurant (@ChocolatHarlem) and Moca Lounge, and to “Community Builder of the Year” Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement. Both spoke passionately about their humble beginnings and their achievements to date.
The panels ran concurrently so I began with “Building Your Brand Through Partnership” and moved to “Building a Rich Harlem Hospitality Experience.” The former brought rich insights on developing true partnership based on accountability, goals and responsiveness, said marketing consultant Terry Williams, of William Grant & Sons. Jeffery L. Bowman, senior partner of Ogilvy & Mather, suggested a need for developing opportunity with the new majority and reframing the idea of what multicultural means. The latter panel addressed the need for building customer service, meeting client needs and, according to Harlem Business Alliance’s (@HBANY) Christina Celuzza, knowing how to adjust your methodologies to reach millennial customers in a technology-driven environment.
Before moving into the last panels and closing, HP2P showcased the unique Harlem culinary talent with a dynamic lunch spread that included “mocktails” from La Bodega Social Club (@LaBodega47), shark and bake from the new Lolo’s Seafood Shack (@LOLOSSeafood) (look for a feature in next week’s “Talking SCHOP!”), short ribs and smoked gouda mac and cheese from the Corner Social (@CornerSocialNY) and their new executive chef, Banks White (formerly of Minton’s) and French fare from Soleil Caterers (@ChezLucienneNYC). Guests couldn’t get enough and were inspired to revisit these vendors in their restaurants.
The second round of panels celebrated “Black Men in Hospitality & Culinary” with chefs Marcus Samuelsson (Red Rooster), J.J. Johnson (Cecil/Minton’s) and Raymond Mohan (Lolo’s), among others. In the other panel, HP2P looked at “Maximizing Your Cultural & Culinary ‘Brandwidth,’” with notable figures in publishing, television, publicity and entrepreneurship. The nugget here came from entertainment executive Phil Robinson while discussing creating an audience for your brand. He said the key to branding success is having “a story to sell,” and not just tell.
The closing panel of the Harlem Hospitality and Culinary Conference brought together some of Harlem’s pioneers. Raphael Benavides (Ricardo Steakhouse, @RicardosNYC) reflected on the importance of trusting yourself and being able to accept change when growing a new business. Tren’ness Woods-Black (third generation, Sylvia’s, @SylviasSoulFood) talked about staying true to the brand by way of a quote from her grandmother, who said, “I am Harlem. They just call me Sylvia.” Cousin Melba Wilson (Melba’s, @MelbasHarlem) followed up with another Sylvia’s quote when referring to nurturing passion and success, saying to always “rock your baby!” Wilson closed by declaring her legacy “to eradicate fear and to aspire and inspire.”
Thank you to HP2P and to all who participated. Great job this year! Looking forward to the fourth, fifth and sixth annual event and beyond.
Happy eating and thanks for reading!
Kysha Harris is a food writer, culinary producer, consultant and owner of SCHOP!, a personalized food service offering weekly and in-home entertaining packages. Questions? Comments? Requests? Feedback? Invitations? Email her at kysha@iSCHOP.com, follow her on Twitter and Instagram @SCHOPgirl or on Facebook www.facebook.com/SCHOPnyc. For even more recipes, tips and food musings, subscribe to her blog at www.talkingSCHOP.wordpress.com.