Anyone who has ever been to Memphis knows that it’s a foodie town. Sure, you’re never more than five minutes away from the southern staples of fried chicken or barbecue, but there are also hidden gems on every corner and emerging restaurateurs popping up every day. Whether it’s unexpected fusions like crepes and ice cream or gourmet chocolates that cater the Grammy’s, there’s always something new to taste in Memphis, and that’s exactly what Cynthia Daniels tries to show people.
The Atlanta native moved to Memphis after losing her job as a mentor recruiter for at-risk youth. Despite having an impressive resume and both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, she couldn’t find a job, and after a year of searching, she stepped out on a leap of faith and moved her life to Memphis. It was here that she joined the Memphis Urban League of Young Professionals and began putting her advocacy skills to work by helping small, minority-owned businesses gain social media exposure.
It was through this interaction with black-owned restaurants that she identified a common problem holding back minority-owned businesses: many of these business owners know how to cook and run their restaurant well, but few of them had the support or resources that marketing to all of Memphis demands. Inspired by the problems she had seen and using the connections she had made with professionals, leaders, and entrepreneurs around Memphis, Cynthia came up with a game-changing idea.
“My hope was to create awareness around black-owned restaurants the same way Italian Festival, Jewish Festival, and Latino Festival are celebrated and recognized in Memphis.”
The goal was simple: highlight black-owned restaurants in the community to drive profits and patronage, and boost publicity so Memphians are aware these businesses exist. Black Restaurant Week wasn’t intended to be profitable – it was simply a way of helping the business owners she’d been working with improve their marketing. But the initiative ended up being so successful that around 3,000 restaurant-goers spent nearly $85,000 in sales during the week, meaning participating businesses at a minimum quadrupled their business. The lasting effect on the participating restaurants was also significant:
“After Memphis Black Restaurant Week, restaurant owners continued to gain new customers because they had discovered hidden jewels that they fell in love with,” Daniels says. “It also gained them a more diverse following and additional media attention. A few restaurants were able to reinvest profits into their businesses, purchasing catering vans, additional seating to accommodate new patrons, and even radio advertising.”
Through this process, Cynthia became a community figure, familiarizing herself even further with neighborhoods, non-profits, and people around Memphis. She used this momentum to launch her business, Cynthia Daniels & Co., which serves as one of the hottest event planning and consulting businesses in and outside of Memphis. Today, she remains connected to the community by working with institutions like the National Civil Rights Museum to create events that increase traffic and awareness. In September 2017, Cynthia Daniels & Co. launched a 5-week outdoor MLK Soul Series to engage the community and brought in thousands of first-time visitors. Cynthia continues to advocate on behalf of and represent Memphian business owners and is a recognizable leader in our community.