Washington, D.C. is the city that inspired this documentary series, exploring the role of restaurants in revitalizing neighborhoods. There’s so much good food, and such a premium on real estate in the city, that new restaurants are opening up in neighborhoods on the far corners of the District. Off the beaten path, those neighborhoods are often home to the city’s minority residents, and when new restaurants and businesses start to change the face of a neighborhood, those residents risk getting pushed out as developers buy up properties to build high rises targeted at a wealthier, whiter demographic.
One such neighborhood in the middle of change is Petworth. The Petworth area is a historically black neighborhood, but that’s clearly changing. I met with Jeremy Gifford of DC Reynolds and Paul Ruppert of the Petworth Citizen and Reading Room to talk about what they can do to help bring the community together as economic forces work to drive it apart. The secret might be in a neighborhood bar where everybody knows your name.
Today, Martin Luther King Jr.’s neighborhood bubbles with activity. Tourists hop on the new streetcar to travel from Atlanta’s downtown to see his home and church, and the restaurant and bar scene is blossoming, attracting all kinds of people to the area. But the liveliness is new for the Old Fourth Ward, which suffered in the years following MLK Jr.’s assassination. I dropped by two restaurants to find out how the neighborhood’s revitalization is creating new opportunities for the diverse residents who call the area home. And in the process, I also found a story of how one chef is bringing a new kind of activism to the block, by cooking and educating with locally sourced, healthy food.
Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated communities across New Orleans, forcing out residents like Myra Bercy. But Bercy returned to rebuild the city, in part because there’s no place like home—especially if you want hometown cooking. She wasn’t a restaurant owner before Katrina, but she wanted to make sure that after Katrina, New Orleans was still a place where you could find “that authentic Creole taste.”
Chip Apperson is one of the new people who came to New Orleans after Katrina. But he’s also got an interest in serving local food. He and Myra both opened their restaurants on Freret Street, and business is booming. The restaurant scene on Freret Street is driving the revitalization of the neighborhood, and with a mix of new and old, black and white, rich and poor, I wanted to see if this was a model neighborhood for revitalization—a place where diverse residents can live, work and eat—after Katrina.
I wanted to talk more about what I observed in San Antonio in May, what I have read about the situation with the federal promise grants, and what I have heard from the chefs featured in the episode–David Arciniega and Shane Reed–about what’s happened since I visited.
San Antonio’s Eastside neighborhood was the first area in the country chosen for President Barack Obama’s Promise Zone Initiative, which makes federal grant funds available to cities and nonprofits for neighborhood revitalization. I met with two chefs on the Eastside: lifelong resident David Arciniega of Amaya’s Cocina, and newcomer Shane Reed of Dignowity Meats. The two talk about some of the struggles of running a successful small business in the changing neighborhood, and the hopes they have to bring good food to the community.
After you watch the episode, read more about the Promise Zone program and see how David and Shane are doing here.