It’s no secret Edmonton has a rich, vibrant, delicious food scene and the city’s newest culinary festival is encouraging residents to discover flavours they may not have experienced before.
Feed the Soul Dining Week, in its second year, began Feb. 2 and runs until Sunday, Feb. 11.
It features 13 Black-owned restaurants representing culinary creations from Senegal, East Africa, Italy, Jamaica, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Nigeria and Trinidad.
“We have over 80 Black-owned food and beverage businesses here in the city so we wanted to create an opportunity to celebrate our differences, share our culture, and really unite the community over our stories — what better than way over food?” said Rochelle Ignacio, founder of Feed the Soul Dining Week.
The goal isn’t just to get people into restaurants for one week — rather, to bring in new local customers who don’t just get to enjoy new food, but learn more about different Black cultures, too.
“While we want people to try the menu during dining week — it’s a cheap, fine, affordable way to try different cuisines — we’re just hoping that people find those new dishes that they want to go back and try after dining week,” she said.
During the festival, restaurants and small businesses are featuring a multi-course/dish prix fixe menu with prices ranging from $20-$45 per person.
To ensure soul-filled food is accessible and affordable, Edmontonians are encouraged to check out a daily “Ten Dolla Deal” featuring $10 dishes and off-menu offerings.
Ignacio said a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with getting their name out there, so the dining week is a way to market and promote their businesses.
Through a city grant, the festival also offers digital support to the businesses: graphic and website design, social media marketing from influencers, as well as public relations support.
“It really varies, depending on where the business is at and what their marketing goals are,” Ignacio said.
Matthew Dubidad, his wife and his brother all own Jamaican Jerk Shak in the Phase 3 food court at West Edmonton Mall — an eatery they launched two years ago after being at the mall and thinking it could use more Caribbean flavour options.
The trio decided to open their own kiosk, with Dubidad — a former teacher and car salesman — looking after the business aspect while his wife controlled the kitchen and his brother contributed their recipes.
“I said, ‘Let’s go big. Let’s go in the mall,'” and in December 2022, the independent business opened amid a sea of food franchises — flanked on one side by an Edo Japan and on the other, a Crepeworks stand.
“When the shutters went up, we didn’t know what to expect — but we had a huge line up. It was absolutely amazing. And from there, it’s just going uphill.
“Everything’s just beautiful.”
Dubidad said he’s served customers who have driven from hours away just to get a taste of the food served at Jamaican Jerk Shak. He was eager to be a part of the dining week, which is happening during Black History Month.
“It not only pushes marketing, which is obviously what we want as restaurants, but it adds a little bit of diversity because not all of the participants in Feed the Soul are from a Jamaican background.”
One of the other restaurants participating in Feed the Soul is takeaway eatery Cafe Caribbean, just off Jasper Avenue and 117 Street.
Owner Nadine Lewis and her cousin Patricia serve up foods from the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, where the food has been influenced by cuisines around the world like Indian, African, Creole, Lebanese and more.
“It’s a melting pot of many different cultures, all kind of mashing together,” Lewis said. “It’s just a layering of flavours — but none of the flavours overpowers each other.”
She opened what she said is Edmonton’s only Trinidadian eatery in August of 2022 after running a catering business for a few years, mainly serving her church and acquaintances.
“People would tell us all the time, ‘You guys should open a restaurant’ and we would be like, yeah, your family tells you — but you think they just tell you that because they’re family, right?”
Then amid pandemic layoffs from their jobs in health care and the insurance industry, Lewis decided to give it a go.
She got help from Canadian Imperial Advantage, which works to help immigrants and new Black entrepreneurs successfully get off their feet, and took over the restaurant space from another Caribbean eatery.
She wanted to introduce new, lesser-known flavours to Edmontonians.
“There’s a lot of food that people are missing out on because when they think Caribbean, they think Jamaica,” Lewis said, adding the existing availability didn’t match the more diverse cultural makeup of the community.
“That’s what we’re really here to do, is just to let people be able to come in and try other Caribbean dishes, because there’s so much good food out there from so many different islands.”
The two women specifically wanted a small space akin to a food truck, and do all their own cooking and baking.
“For us, it’s really important to stay authentic,” she said. “I want, when you come in here and you have something, that you are transported so that, if you had been in Trinidad and you would have that — you would have the same flavour.
“That’s the thing that I think that makes us unique.”
Cafe Caribbean was part of the inaugural Feed the Soul dining week last year, and Lewis said it resulted in a 15 to 20-per cent sales boost that month, plus new customers.
“There’s a lot of really good food in Edmonton. And I think that a lot of times, people are just not aware of it.”
For more information, check out Feed the Soul’s website.