Before integration, Black-owned businesses flourished in African-American communities and were considered one of the strongest pillars of African-American culture.
But with the benefits of integration also came the declining desire among African Americans to support Black-owned establishments, believing that Whites and other ethnic groups could deliver better products, goods and services. Several generations later, Black businesses have been replaced by fast food chains and small operations owned and operated by persons of other ethnic groups that are heavily patronized by African Americans.
“It’s amazing. Some African-American youth have been raised by parents that never shopped in a Black-owned business, other than a barber shop or beauty salon,” said Monica Fenton, 57, from northwest Washington. “I make it a point to find Black-owned businesses and support them.”
In the District, despite the decline of Black patronage, a few businesses have managed to remain open. One such business is Wilson’s Restaurant located at 7th and V streets, N.W. (across from Howard University Hospital).
After the death of Lacey Wilson Sr., owner of the famous Florida Avenue Grill, one of his sons, Joe Wilson, opened his own restaurant and called it Wilson’s. In 1997, John Goodwin, 61, became the new owner of Wilson’s after retiring from Howard University as one of their lead cooks.
“We make our menu from scratch rather than precook our meals days before and freeze them. We believe our fresh meals keep bringing our customers back over and over,” said Goodwin. “We have remained consistent throughout the years.”
Within a two-block radius of the establishment are college dorms, high-end condos, dozens of fast food chains, Chinese carryouts, Irish pubs and the famous U-Street corridor lined with a dozen Ethiopian restaurants.
On a recent day in November, James Rinaudot, 33, finished a hearty breakfast at Wilson’s. He has been working in the District for over 10 years, distributing beers to local bars and restaurants. This was his first meal at Wilson’s.
“I was nearby and decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. The food was very tasty and fresh,” said Rinaudot.
That’s the message that longtime supporter Rozier T. “Roach” Brown wants to get out to the community at-large. “Wilson’s is the only real down home Southern cuisine restaurant besides the Florida Avenue Grill in this area,” said Brown, 60, radio talk show host on WPFW-FM Radio. “ no other restaurant around here offers free parking.”
Other patrons agreed.
“I enjoy Wilson’s because you get good service and the food is reasonably priced,” said Royce Blackmon, 54, a Ward 4 resident. “Wilson’s homemade deserts will make you cry they are so good.”
To offset the lack of patronage by walk-ins and new residents in the area, Wilson’s caters over 1,000 meals daily to daycare and senior centers, charter schools, halfway houses and group homes. It also caters for special events like repasts, family reunions and church events.
To show its appreciation, Wilson’s has provided Thanksgiving dinners to the needy for 15 years. This year the establishment teamed up with WPFW Radio, Illastr8 – Radio and Inner Voices, a prison drama group and reentry program, for its Second Annual Christmas Day Dinner. The organizations plan to feed 2,000 guests from 12 to 4 p.m. on Dec. 25, reaching out to the homeless, formerly incarcerated, veterans and seniors.
“Lots of organizations feed needy families on Thanksgiving. We knew there were many people hungry on Christmas Day. So we wanted to feed their body, mind and soul with good tidings,” said Brown.
If you would like to donate money to help feed the needy, please contact Wilson’s at 202-462-3700.