Locksley Orr, left, and Robyn Weigand prepare to serve lunch to participants of The 365 Project’s Black Food Traditions tour. Orr, who owned a business on the corner of Dayton and Corry streets, prepared a meal that would have been featured in her restaurant. (Photo by Jessica Thomas)

Marking Black Food Traditions in Yellow Springs

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Com’s restaurant, MaJaGa Bar and Jazz Club, the Union House Hotel — these are all businesses that thrived in the Yellow Springs of yesteryear. That history — the history of Black-owned restaurants and food establishments — was the focus of the most recent Blacks in Yellow Springs walking tour, hosted by The 365 Project.

Over 30 people attended an alternate tour experience led by Yellow Springs High School sophomore Gini Meekin; the event was held in the Bryan Center due to forecasted thunderstorms in the area. Meekin emphasized both the businesses themselves and offered insights into the ebb and flow of Black business ownership in the Village, beginning with a short history of Blacks in Yellow Springs.

“The antislavery sentiments of the founders of Antioch College may have influenced Black people to come to the village,” Meekin said. “Yellow Springs was also attractive to Black people because of Wilberforce University, which became a college of the African American Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1860s.”

Meekin told the group that while Yellow Springs residents opposed slavery, the community was segregated, and Black people were not welcome in many white-owned restaurants. As a result, Black residents and churches established their own eateries, some of which began in church basements to support church activities.

“Eating out was not a common practice, making the inexpensive cooking provided by Black churches an important source of nourishment and also socializing. The First Baptist Church was founded in 1863,” Meekin said.

First Baptist Church was known for holding an event during National Negro History Week, which was started in February 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, and is a precursor to Black History Month.

“The [Calendar] Tea has been the church’s main fundraising event used to fund operational costs,” Meekin said. “There has never been a charge for admission; instead, the church has donation baskets available, but the main focus of the tea was to promote fellowship between community members and enjoy an afternoon together.”

The bulk of the presentation focused on establishments in the two downtown business districts on Xenia Avenue and Dayton Street.

Meekin said that two Black-owned establishments — a Cassano’s Pizza King franchise and Gabby’s BBQ — were located where the Wind’s Wine Cellar is currently located. Cassano’s Pizza King, owned by Jake and Maxine Jones, was the first Black-owned Cassano’s franchise, and a business that may not exist today, as a Village ordinance limited franchise businesses years after the local Cassano’s closed.

On Saturday, July 23, sophomore Gini Meekin led a group in a “Black Food Traditions” tour — part of a tour series hosted by The 365 Project — which focused on Black-owned businesses. Above, Meekin stood in front of the Winds Wine Cellar, a building that formerly housed two Black-owned restaurants, Cassano’s Pizza King and Gabby’s Barbecue.

Continue reading over at Yellow Springs News.

Words By Jessica Thomas.

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