by Chamidae Ford
On an uncommonly clear and bright Saturday afternoon, a shimmering gold ribbon was cut, marking the opening of Communion Restaurant & Bar.
In a time of shuttered restaurants, disappearing small businesses, loss, and fear, Kristi Brown, the founder of culinary brand That Brown Girl Cooks! and the co-owner and chef of Communion Restaurant & Bar, has defied odds and opened the doors of her own establishment.
Sitting on the corner of Union Street and 24th Avenue under a Liberty Bank sign, Communion R&B is working to honor the people who brought them to this point.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony reflected this effort. A relatively large crowd, masked up and social distancing, gathered to honor, pray, bless, and give thanks over this new venture by Brown and her family.
Communion R&B resides on the land of what was once Liberty Bank, the first Black-owned bank west of the Mississippi — an institution founded by the grandfather of one of the speakers at the event, K. Wyking Garrett, the president and CEO of Africatown.
At the root of this new restaurant is belief in family and belief in community. Co-owned by Kristi Brown and her son Damon Bomar, the restaurant is also a testament to the love and respect they have for each other.
While Brown had never planned to open a restaurant, food was always her passion.
“It’s really the only thing I ever wanted to do,” Brown said.
But regardless of her love for food, the demand of a restaurant was too much of a commitment, especially while raising her young son. “I didn’t want [to run] a restaurant because I didn’t think I could. And then by the time I could, I was feeling like I was too old,” Brown said.
Despite these fears, her son’s own desire to open a restaurant gave her the opportunity for Communion to come to fruition.
In a speech before the ribbon-cutting, Brown took a moment to thank her son for the ways that he has supported her.
“I just want to say thank you. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for coming back to me. So many times, over and over. Thank you for seeing and hearing me,” Brown said.
The name of the restaurant itself was derived from familial inspiration and honor. The word “Communion” is an essential aspect of religious practices but also represents simply coming together to exchange thoughts and feelings. Brown’s grandmother was a pastor, and Brown said her grandmother “really would understand that idea about bringing people together.”
The general excitement among the crowd to eat and enjoy this new space was palpable. Brown mentioned that this is something the community has been waiting for.
“They’ve been waiting on a place to gather, a place to be seen, a place to be heard,” Brown said.
And while the community has been patiently waiting, Communion R&B also represents a chance for people outside this space to experience Brown’s food.
“Now the others outside our community get an opportunity to see Black excellence and get to see it on a plate,” Brown said.
For many in the community, Brown’s business and many like hers — Black businesses opening up and working to provide for their community — represent a new era for the Central District.
“Despite other narratives about it’s over, we lost, they did this, they did that, what we’re seeing is a renaissance, you know — a Black business renaissance,” Garrett said.
Providing for the community is a cornerstone of Communion. Immediately following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown began a Community Kitchen dedicated to providing free meals to the people in need in her community and feeding anywhere from 500–750 people a week.
The owners are currently looking to partner with organizations that can help them get their food out to those who need it.
“We’re looking for organizations that are looking to feed people because one of the things is, this is not a shortage of food. It’s a shortage of how to get the food to the people that are really needing it,” Brown said.
The ways that Brown has worked to give back to her community are among the many reasons why her success means so much to the people she is working for. Her friend Danielle Thomas, the person emceeing the ribbon-cutting, spoke of Brown’s unwavering perseverance.
“Putting one foot in front of the other makes s— happen. Declaring your truth and holding true to your word makes things happen, which is the whole reason why we’re here,” said Thomas.
“And she did it with all the personality and shine that she has. To know Kristi is to know that things are possible.”
Closing out the ceremony, people swayed and danced in the streets to “I’ll Take You There,” singing along and cheering.
After a final prayer, the crowd chanted “Ashay, Ashay, Ashay.” It was officially time to eat.
Communion offers outdoor seating and take out. They also deliver if you live in the Central District.
Chamidae Ford is currently a senior journalism major at the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle.
Featured image: Communion Restaurant & Bar’s co-owners Damon Bomar (left) and Kristi Brown share a laugh at their restaurant’s grand opening on Dec. 6, 2020.
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