This couple’s activism looks to level playing field for Black food workers

Restaurateurs Greg and Subrina Collier talk about changes needed in the food industry as they welcome dine-in guests for latest concept.
Greg-Subrina-Collier-Leah-Louise

The tragic murder of George Floyd and related protests have Greg and Subrina Collier equally attuned to another cause that is central to their mission: social justice and community support for Black-owned businesses.

They’re co-owners of Uptown Yolk at 7th Street Public Market, and their Memphis-inspired juke joint, Leah & Louise, opens its dining room on Friday. They’re founding members of the nationally acclaimed Soul Food Sessions dinner series, and Greg is a two-time nominee for the coveted James Beard award. The Colliers have made their mark on Charlotte’s food scene. 

Having started two of their major endeavors following the deaths of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and Keith Lamont Scott in 2016, the Colliers have once again used their platform to speak up on issues like inequity and racism.

Earlier this month, the couple shared a firm stance on Uptown Yolk’s Instagram page, saying they can’t work with those who remain publicly silent about racism. 

“I’m not buying your produce. I’m not doing a dinner with you. I’m not coming on your podcast. I’m not gonna be a member of your organization. I’m not gonna be a part of your round table, food and wine event, etc.,” the post read.

“Both of us are born and raised in Memphis, so we both have a long lineage of civil rights in our families…they did their parts,” Subrina told QCity Metro. “For us, we’re serving our purpose by supporting people on the front line. We’re working from the back side and have been actively using our social media to say that we see you.“

While Black workers make up about 22.8% of the regional workforce, they tend to be clustered in some of the region’s lowest-paying jobs, according to data released by the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. The data shows widespread disparities for Black hospitality workers, where they account for nearly 30% percent of jobs in accommodations and food services.

From the Colliers’ perspective, achieving economic justice for Black-owned businesses will also require people outside of the Black community to spend their dollars with Black businesses and follow through with systemic changes like reworking funding requirements and implementing hiring practices that reflect a commitment to equity and inclusion. 

“You can have your own agenda, but you have to help with the progress,” Subrina said. “That’s been me and Greg’s thing; it’s cool to post and write Black Lives Matter, but what are you going to do to help move people forward?”

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Covid-related restrictions forced the couple to pivot, but they used it as an opportunity to help the community. Uptown Yolk transformed into kitchen central where their team of Black chefs prepared more than 4,000 breakfast meals for the nonprofit Heal Charlotte to deliver to families in need. 

“Through our restaurants, we hope to send the message that we see you. We see you Black culinarians, front-of-house staff, service managers and young people in this field,” Subrina said. “We want to assist you, pay you, give you knowledge and, when your time with us is over, hopefully, we have taught you something.”  

The Colliers are looking forward to welcoming limited dine-in guests to Leah & Louise on Friday. The pandemic delayed their March 20 grand opening, which was replaced with a scaled-back curbside service.

They’re also energized to celebrate Juneteenth and further honor the Black experience. The June 19 event will include a special reservation-only prix fixe menu featuring dry-rubbed ribs, grilled potato salad and a sorrel drink, in addition to the regular menu items. 

“We’re super excited to have people in for the full experience,” Greg shared. “We want to create a vibe and use the energy of right now to celebrate ourselves and our history.”

Leah & Louise will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made on Resy. Online ordering and delivery services are available through the website at leahandlouise.com.

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