Growing up in Memphis, Gregory and Subrina Collier were born with an appreciation for the flavors and diversity of Black foodways. Smoky, seasoned ribs and savory field peas were an expression of love in their communities. Today, Gregory—a three-time James Beard Best Chef: Southeast nominee—shares his heritage in the kitchen at Leah & Louise, the couple’s “modern juke joint” in Charlotte, NC.
After getting their feet wet with pop-up dinners, the Colliers launched BayHaven Food & Wine Festival, a gathering of the nation’s top Black chefs and food entrepreneurs. Most events sold out at the inaugural festival in 2021, themed around the Roaring ‘20s. Buoyed by last year’s success, the festival has expanded to five days this year—Wednesday, October 19 to Sunday, October 23—and created an array of dinners and special events built around a “Homecoming” concept. Highlights include a Friends of James Beard dinner with 2022 Best Chef: Southeast, Ricky Moore, a “Zoe and Friends” six-course meal with British chef Zoe Adjonyoh of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen (the popular cookbook and pop-up), and a prom-style homecoming gala.
On the first day of last year’s festival, Subrina got the call that she was pregnant. “I was setting up a tent and holding a sandbag,” she recalls. “That I quickly put down.” This year, with a three-month-old in tow, the couple have learned to delegate, while honing in on smaller events that emphasize the patron experience.
OpenTable caught up with Subrina as she readied final menus and plans for BayHaven 2022. Read on for exciting developments to look forward to at the festival, which kicks off on October 19.
OpenTable: Take us back to the roots of your personal and professional partnership as a couple.
Subrina Collier: Greg was working at a hot wings spot in Memphis called Ching’s. I was at Christian Brothers University around the corner, and I used to go there to study. We became friends and started dating, and then he went to Phoenix for culinary school. I went out there for four or five years, but we got homesick and wanted to come back to the South and open a restaurant. We started looking for good cities for young Black entrepreneurs and landed in Charlotte. That was March 2012.
OT: You’ve opened and managed two restaurants [Uptown Yolk, their first in Charlotte, and now Leah & Louise], but what inspired you to launch a large-scale food festival?
SC: We had Greek and Italian festivals growing up in Memphis. I have a memory of ordering a spaghetti dish that was different than any spaghetti I’d ever had, and it made me say, “Whoa, this is amazing.” That was an early-in-life inspiration to do a food and wine festival based around Black culinarians and beverage makers.
We went to festivals like Charleston Wine + Food and Euphoria Greenville, and did a mini festival in 2020 with food stalls and an outdoor dinner. I kept dipping my toe into it to see how logistics would work. By late 2020, after Greg asked me 20 or 30 times if I was sure, we kicked it off.
OT: Tell us more about the Homecoming theme this year.
SC: I used to go to my college’s homecoming every year. It’s all about fellowship and people coming back together. We want this festival to be a nucleus, like a college homecoming. It’s a call for people to come and kick it with us.
OT: What lessons from last year have you incorporated into 2022?
SC: Last year, the dinners were huge, like 200 people. They were beautiful and fun, but it’s hard to get 200 dishes and 200 glasses of champagne out at the same time when you want everything to be fresh and perfect. We reduced our dinners to 50 or 60 people so that we can keep them intimate, and brought the brunch event down to 125 people. We want the experience to be perfect.
We’ve also made a point to keep everything close by, so that visiting chefs aren’t commuting all over town. Most events are at the Camp North End campus, with just a couple of other locations. We have a huge area for our tasting tent, but we still try to keep that at about 1,000 people or below.
OT: Who should come to BayHaven?
SC: People that want to eat good food. We have a lot of different genres and regions represented. You may have had collard greens or field peas, but you probably haven’t had the interpretations of those dishes you can try at BayHaven.
OT: What are you most anticipating this year?
SC: I’m looking forward to the six-course dinner with Chef Zoe and Adjoa Courtney’s (Chef Joya) vegan and vegetarian dinner. She makes vegan dishes that taste like you just had a plate full of meat.
I’m also so excited about the homecoming gala. It’ll be like an adult prom, and Harvey Cummings II is the musical act. And, of course, the tasting tent is always fun. You get stuffed before you know it.
BayHaven Food & Wine Festival begins Wednesday, October 19, and continues through Sunday, October 23.
Marquee events include the Pregame Food Truck Rally on Oct. 21 (passes include an unlimited food and drinks ticket for $85), the Pep Rally Tasting Tents (Oct. 22, $150 for all-inclusive) and the Post-Game Tailgate Cookout ($115) on Oct. 23.