As far as Cynthia Daniels is concerned, she is in the best position possible. As creator of Memphis Black Restaurant Week, not only does she get the chance to assist black owned restaurateurs in obtaining exposure throughout the metropolitan Memphis area, but she also gets to partake in their delicious dishes. “It is almost a guilty pleasure,” she told Ms. X Factor. “To get to partake and share all of these unique dishes. It is amazing.”Memphis Black Restaurant Week is more than just five days of food. Daniels has curated a series of experiences and opportunities that, in the beginning, were totally unexpected.
“In terms of the week maturing from year one to year two; the first year it was all about coming out and supporting black businesses. By the second year, the focus was different – creating jobs,” Daniels said.
In its third year, Memphis Black Restaurant Week (March 5-11, 2018) will showcase over a dozen black owned restaurants in the Memphis area,
all of which will feature a two-course lunch for $15 and a three-course dinner for $25. “There was an economical impact. Due to the additional revenue, restaurant owners had the ability to hire additional staff, retain some of the staff, and enhance some of their businesses.”
Making a difference and creating long-term impact is something that has driven Daniels for as long as she can remember. She identifies herself as a community advocate and is constantly seeking ways to influence and enhance – Memphis just so happens to be the main beneficiary. Whether through Memphis Black Restaurant Week, MLK Soul Series (an outdoor, community-based concert series in honor of MLK50), Level Up conference (where she works to help young professional elevate their passions), and the Top 40 Under 40 Urban Elite Professionals Awards Gala, Daniels utilizes her passions for event planning to create access for those often neglected. “I just felt convicted to help add to the dynamics that were in the city. Memphis has so much to offer, but still lacking in areas of diversity,” Daniels said.
“I felt convicted to do something instead of complaining. I had to be part of the solution.”
A native of Atlanta, Daniels moved to Memphis after an unexpected professional setback. Once she landed in her new city, she hit the ground doing volunteer work in and around the metro area. She quickly became known as the go-to person. “The first two years [in Memphis] I was that super diligent committee member,” she said. “With volunteering, a lot of responsibility can potentially be placed with the person who know will get it all done. I became that person.”
In the process, she also realized that she could merge her community advocacy with a newfound interest and knack for event planning. “I tell anybody, I am big advocate for volunteering.
If you are looking for a career change, volunteering can do so much more than you can ever imagine
It exposes you to so much,” she said
Yet, while the move to Memphis was unexpected, she said it also saved her. If she had not moved to Memphis, Daniels thinks she might have ended up in Chicago or Washington, D.C. or maybe even back in Atlanta working in human resources. “The city turned me into an entrepreneur. It is a city full of opportunities,” she said. “People have asked me why I continue to stay here and I tell them, because of the opportunities. You become are fearless here.”
But let’s not forget the food. One of her favorite dishes – peach cobbler nachos – is from Chef Tam’s Underground Café. “If I may,” she said. “The pie crust, deep fried, is the nacho. Then it is topped with peaches, cinnamon, whipped cream and ice cream. Who thinks of such a thing? Such creativity! These chefs and restaurateurs are brilliant!”
But more than that, seeing the impact is also a highlight of the work she does. The testimonies sometimes take the place of the delectable dishes. “To hear those personal stories,” she said. “There are so many behind the scenes stories – testimonies and expressions of gratitude. Especially when someone says to me, ‘Cynthia, thank you for having the courage.’ You just never really know how by just doing what you were purposed to do, you can in turn empower others. It is amazing.”