In an attempt to provide more community-centric programming, the Tacoma Art Museum has launched an exciting new program. Every Thursday through November 28, TAM Cafe will partner with local, Black-owned restaurants - and food lovers can get in on the culinary goodness from noon through 7 p.m (no museum admission is required to visit TAM Cafe).
Tony Lang, TAM's Executive Chef, Cafe and Catering Manager, got started as a dishwasher at the old Barbecue Pete's while in college, when he was first "bit by that bug. I fell in love with the industry," he said. "I had a chef tell me, 'You’ve got a knack for this and should consider doing it as a career.' I took a break from school, and I’m still on that break."
Since those early days, he's worked in fine dining, fast casual and at venues ranging from small independent restaurants to large corporate dining outlets. He started at TAM about two years ago, and admits his path to this museum was...getting married.
"I needed something where I could pull back on the amount of hours I was working so that I could balance what I loved and still be a husband and a dad," he said. "TAM gave me that opportunity."
Lang says that this newest program is all about introducing Black-owned food and beverage businesses to the Tacoma community — amazing places visitors might not have experienced before.
"TAM has been gracious enough to provide that platform," Lang said. "I am most excited about watching someone be introduced to a new restaurant/owner that they would not have been exposed to otherwise."
He loves when somebody comes into the cafe not knowing who’s being featured.
"Then as soon as their fork touches their lips, they smile or do a little happy dance in their seat to let you know they are enjoying the food. It’s such a treat to hear the business owner telling them a story, giving them a business card and telling them where they can be found," he said. "What more can I ask for?"
The concept evolved simply.
"When I heard about The Kinsey Collection [TAM's newest exhibit] and its art, its history - our story, our history - I naturally thought about how to tie food into it. There are a lot of Black-owned food and beverage businesses here; how can I tie that in? And that seed was planted, and I just ran with it."
The culinary lineup covers everything from sweets and savory dishes to beverages, as Lang says it's really just about bringing everybody in.
"We’ve got Quincy Henry from Campfire Coffee, we’ve got Warnessa Victorian from Lizzy Lou’s Too," he comments. "We’ve got Uncle Thurmon from Uncle Thurms Soul Food and Karina Blasco from Only Oatmeal Cookie Creations. We had Aliyah Davis from Black Magic Sweets, Martin Dowd from Dowd’s BBQ and Bobby Shorts from HamHock Jones Soul Shack. Also, there’s Brenda Miller from Velvet’s Big Easy, and there’s more to come."
The inspiration behind choosing each business was to not put any restrictions on them; Lang's only criteria was that each participant be a legitimate business owner.
"I wanted them to come here to do what they do best for a different crowd and audience," he said. "That’s it. Each selected their own menu and pricing. I just wanted to give them the platform to show what they could do."
Away from work, Lang's world revolves around his family — and food and drink.
"Because if you find good food, you find good drink, you’re gonna find an amazing destination to go to," he said. "Here in Tacoma, there’s water, there’s beach, there's mountain — there’s a little of everything to do here." He also likes coming down to the museum on a day off to view an exhibit, so he doesn't have to rush.
When asked why now for this culinary series, Lang thinks it’s the ideal time because people said 'yes.'
"There’s never a bad time," he adds. "It’s really about getting others to buy in. The Kinseys bought in, TAM bought in, and that made it the perfect time."