After the Black Lives Matter movement was reinvigorated in late May and early June following the tragic murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among too many others, millions of Americans across the country have finally started to acknowledge the broad effects of systematic racism and inequality that shape nearly every structure in America — the food industry included. One of the ways to help combat that inequality is by supporting Black-owned businesses.
Charlottesville’s Black-owned food businesses have always been a thriving part of the community. From MarieBette to local farms, these businesses are the backbone of the Charlottesville food scene. I caught up with some of these local Black-owned food business owners to learn more about the many exceptional options Charlottesville has to offer.
MarieBette Cafe and Bakery
Two locations: 700 Rose Hill Dr and 105 E Water St
Owned and operated by chef Jason Becton and his husband, who met in New York City at the French Culinary Institute, MarieBette was started five and a half years ago and was described by Becton as a “European-inspired cafe and bakery.” The business is named after their two daughters, Marian and Betty.
Of the many staples on its menu, one fact Becton and his husband love to highlight is that the restaurant’s eggs are local, pasture-raised eggs from Sylvanaqua Farm, Free Union Grass Farm and Wayside Produce. Sourcing locally and naturally allows for a noticeable difference in color and taste of the eggs. Its pretzel croissant is known by many to be “life-changing,” an opinion backed by both Becton and myself.
Accompanying the Black Lives Matter movement is a hope for long-awaited change. When asked what their hopes are for the future of Charlottesville in particular, Becton hopes the movement will be sustainable.
“My hope too is that the Charlottesville community [will] listen to the voices and experiences of Black people while suppressing the desire to make excuses or question their validity,” Becton said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Allowing yourself to truly listen without making excuses is one way you can support Black people and this movement.”
The best way students and patrons can support MarieBette is to order from them, preferably via its website given the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, and to continue to spread the word.
Sliced. Cake Bar, LLC
Check social media for truck location, new kitchen location - 600 Concord Ave
Sliced. cake bar is a mobile bakery that operates locally and offers wedding cakes, cake flights and buttercream shots in its six signature flavors — carrot cake, confetti, chocolate, lemon, strawberry and chocolate with salted caramel. They also offer made-to-order cakes for weddings, birthdays, parties and private events and serve cakes by the slice, as well.
Owners of Sliced. cake bar Megan and Rock Watson met while serving in the Persian Gulf War. They started Sliced. cake bar in June 2017 because of Megan’s passion for baking and the opportunity it allowed them to make baked goods for those close to them.
On one 22-hour car ride, the Watsons brainstormed and came up with the concept for a mobile cake shop that would cater to the after dinner and lunch crowd. The shop’s motto is “simple, elegant and delicious,” and they strive to evoke happiness with every cake.
Their cakes are made from scratch using all natural ingredients, and they make an effort to source locally. They even make their own vanilla and lemon extract, but their favorite ingredient is their salted caramel sauce, which is homemade in a frying pan that had belonged to Megan’s grandmother.
Sliced. cake bar is a Black-owned, female-founded and veteran-owned business run by a couple who come from different backgrounds. Through their engagement with the Charlottesville community, they hope to continue inspiring and spreading joy through their baked goods.
“By being present in our community and actively engaged, [we can] be an example of how to serve the community and to love one another,” the Watsons said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “[We can] be the catalyst to change the hearts of others.”
The best way to support Sliced. cake bar is to follow them on Facebook and Instagram where they post their schedule, indicating when and where their red trailer will be stationed around town. They can also be contacted through their website.
Food truck: 1538 East High Street, Pantops mountain across from CVS
Restaurant coming soon to the Dairy Market Building on Preston Ave
Angelic Jenkins is a Charlottesville native who has always had a passion for cooking, as she always wanted to work at a festival and sell fried fish to the community. She remembers going to the African American Cultural Arts Festival — an annual festival in Washington Park celebrating African cultures presented by Chihamba — with her family every summer, where she recalls watching in fascination as the chefs cooked fried fish.
Jenkins ended up investing in this passion and became a vendor at the festival herself. In 2018, Jenkins purchased a mobile food truck and quickly decided that Pantops on Long Street, her truck’s current operating location in Charlottesville, would be her new home.
Jenkins has always been a hard worker and hopes that she can lead by example and inspire others that it is never too late to start on dreams and goals. In fact, she is opening her restaurant in the new Dairy Market Building on Preston Ave. this September, as well as operating her mobile food truck.
The food truck’s slogan is “Angelic’s Kitchen, where food becomes your happiness” because Jenkins hopes people will smile and do the “happy shake with their shoulders” when they taste her food. Besides her fresh fried fish, Jenkins’ truck also sells street corn, hushpuppies and slaw, among other Southern flavor-infused soul foods.
With the Black Lives Matter movement, Jenkins is hoping to see a positive outlook and for more people to “realize that [systemic racism] wouldn’t happen if everyone was treated fairly.”
She would like to see Charlottesville further support more Black-owned businesses beyond purchasing from minority businesses. Jenkins hopes to see the community provide “grants, loans and marketing support so that we can grow and more minorities can expand, stay in business … and create more employment opportunities in the city of Charlottesville.”
The best way to support Angelic is to continue to visit the food truck on East High Street at Pantops, share her social media posts and donate to her GoFundMe page — the funds of which support her as a small minority business navigating the complications of COVID-19, specifically assisting with her equipment and construction costs.
Nona’s Italian Cucina Tomato Sauce
Online and at the Charlottesville farmers market
Yvonne and Jesse Cunningham met while Jesse was in the Navy. During one of Jesse’s deployments to Naples, Yvonne met “Nona,” a neighbor in the communal villa where they were staying. Yvonne and Nona were two women who grew up worlds apart and never fully spoke each other’s language, yet they formed a friendship and love that could not be broken.
After Nona taught Yvonne how to cook many great Italian dishes, Yvonne realized the center of these dishes was the tomato “gravy.” After returning to Charlottesville with Jesse, Yvonne and her family were motivated to start Nona’s Italian Cucina, a jarred tomato sauce business that sells Nona’s Tomato Sauce — a timeless blend of Italian imported San Marzano tomatoes, fresh herbs and classic spices.
The most unique ingredient in the authentic sauce are the tomatoes, according to Yvonne. After living in Bella Napoli for seven years, they learned that the best sauce is made using the San Marzano tomatoes native to the Napoli region, which they now import to help give the sauce an authentic taste.
Yvonne hopes that accompanying Black Lives Matter, Charlottesville will engage in “real systemic change from the ground up … we all need a hand up, not a kick down.”
She acknowledged in an email to The Cavalier Daily that Black Lives Matter is “much more than a movement, it's the fact and hope that real change is FINALLY here … youth is where hope is, as they are the future and will lead the way to equality for all.”
The best way to support Nona’s Italian Cucina is to purchase its sauce at several local stores — including Tilman’s, Market Street Wine, Charlottesville City Market, The Pie Chest, Iron Paffles n’ Coffee, Blue Ridge Country Store and IX Park Spring Market.
Although not a comprehensive list, these businesses help reflect the diversity of the Charlottesville community.
In a time where the world is plagued with division and inequality, one of the ways to show love, inclusion and acceptance is through engaging with those around you. While there are differences that make us unique, we can be brought together by a willingness to learn and accept one another. A defining place of this kind of commonality is through cooking, eating and celebrating food.
That said, it is naive to think that a celebration of food alone will bury what some communities still feel today. Healing from the discomfort, pain, neglect and inequality that Black people feel in response to systematic hatred and inequality will take far more than just talking about food.
As reflected by those highlighted in this article, Black Lives Matter is more than a movement and its voice needs to be sustained. The shared trauma of Black people is not a trend, and we must continue to amplify Black voices and be willing to listen to others. In order to truly accept and validate the experience of others, we have to be willing to listen to and believe in those experiences and the lens through which they view them.
A previous version of this article referred to MarieBette Café and Bakery as Marie Bette’s Cafe and Bakery. This article has been updated to reflect the correct name.