Lunch & Learn! Restaurant Serves Up Lessons In Black History

(Photo credit: Detroit Metro Times)

Ever had a meal so good that you closed your eyes and it seemed to take you back in time? Back to a place where your taste buds dance and rejoice with joy? Well, one Detroit restaurant is taking you back in time with their lunch and educating you too.

Patrick Coleman is packing a piece of history into the meals served at his soul food restaurant Beans & Cornbread. Throughout Black History Month, the Detroit-based eatery will offer “shoebox lunches” similar to the boxes African Americans used to store food when traveling in the south during the Jim Crow-era. Because they were banned and refused service in white-owned establishments, they resorted to cooking and packing their own meals in shoeboxes.

“You get on the highway these days and you can stop at any restaurant along the interstate, but back during Jim Crow, [black] folks couldn’t do that,” he told Black Enterprise. “You could not go into the dining cars if you were on the train or pull over to a Denny’s or a Cracker Barrel and walk in…you could potentially end up getting killed.”

Coleman, who opened Beans & Cornbread in 1997 in Southfield, a northern suburb of Detroit, says the “shoebox lunches” were inspired by the stories his mother and grandmother told him about taking trips in the segregated south. “They would get into this nice train up north in Detroit and once they hit the Mason Dixon [line], they had to get on the old, coal-powered train where soot was coming in the windows,” he said. That’s when “someone would open up a bag and the shoeboxes would come out because they could not go into the dining cars.” He added, “I’m just one generation removed from that.”

Beans & Cornbread has been serving up the heart and soul of southern cooking since 1997. The award-winning soul food restaurant fuses southern roots with an epicurean influence in traditional favorites and low country cuisine. In addition to this unique upscale dining experience, we have a quaint wine & martini bar named Sidebar and a luxurious, private event space called Red Velvet for parties up to 50 guests.

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Coleman launched his “shoebox lunch” idea in February 2018, which caught on quick. “The shoeboxes were extremely popular last year,” said Coleman. The idea was so successful that he added a “shoebox lunch” to the Beans & Cornbread lunch menu back in November, which consists of southern fried wings in a decorative box commemorating black history. The box also pays tribute to African American trailblazers and includes information about Freedom Riders and the Green Book, a guide that instructed black travelers on where to find safe havens throughout the deeply-segregated ’60s South. “It’s a history lesson [that] we call ‘lunch and learn.’” The real-life story of the Green Book is now a major motion picture with many are expecting to win some big awards this year.

Starting in March of 2019, Coleman will expand the “shoebox lunch” meal to include a variety of traditional soul food dishes like…