A Curated Guide to Tulsa’s Black-Owned Businesses
BY BEA BAKER, MATT CARNEY, MADELEINE DORST, GARY MASON, ZACK REEVES & MADELINE ROPER
About This List
#BuyBlack. It isn’t a new movement by any means, but it remains an intentional, thoughtful principle to help you use your money for good and keep it circulating in the black community. Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurship have a long, proud tradition in Tulsa, going back to the Greenwood district in the early 1900s. Because of segregation, black Tulsans couldn’t use any white businesses, so they built up their own, which turned Greenwood into one of the richest areas in America, dubbed Black Wall Street.
After white mobs in the 1921 Race Massacre leveled the district and destroyed all of the businesses in it, black business owners rebuilt over many generations. Black businesses are now spread out around Tulsa beyond Greenwood. If you’re a black entrepreneur, check out some of the groups here that may be able to help you get your business off the ground. If you’re a consumer, refer to this guide to find great food, services, and artistic and cultural experiences.
Please note that this is a curated guide limited to businesses operating in the food and drink, arts and select retail sectors, as well as a few institutional entities (such as the Greenwood Cultural Center). It's not an exhaustive list. For an exhaustive listing of black-owned businesses in Tulsa, we recommend checking out the Tulsa Black Owned Business Network's business directory. And of course, social distancing and mask-wearing are recommended wherever you go. —Madeleine Dorst
201 N. Elgin Ave., Tulsa, OK 74120
Commerce flowed in Greenwood early in the 20th Century. As a segregated Tulsa took shape along the Arkansas River, Greenwood quickly distinguished itself as the entrepreneurial center of black culture and business. Booker T. Washington dubbed it "Black Wall Street," for the area was rich with opportunity for African-Americans at the time.
In 1921, however, a white mob destroyed Greenwood in an overnight act of horrific violence. The massacre resulted in as many as 300 deaths, and Greenwood was completely leveled. Decades of accumulated wealth and commerce were destroyed, much of it never to be recovered.
The rebuilding of Greenwood began immediately after the massacre, and occurred in fits and starts for decades afterward, often hampered by municipal policies, city planning and ineffective efforts at urban renewal. In 1980, a $3.5 million dollar grant was used in part to build the Greenwood Cultural Center, which remains in the district today as a testament to the community's rich culture, resilience and self-sufficiency.
Today's Greenwood District is a bustling one. You'll find many of the businesses in this Guide there, from restaurants to retail shops. —Root staff
10 N. Greenwood Ave. Ste D, Tulsa, OK 74120
Sneakerhead and entrepreneur Venita Cooper opened Silhouette Sneakers & Art in Tulsa’s Greenwood District in the fall of 2019. But Silhouette isn’t just any old retailer. Cooper (she goes by her last name) curates a thoughtful selection of Nike, Adidas, New Balance and other footwear that’s bold but balanced, catering to Tulsa’s sneakerhead subculture.
Aside from being a unique store in its own right, Silhouette’s presence on Archer Ave. is rife with historical significance. Near its entrance you’ll find a plaque marking where Grier-Shoemaker once sold shoes to the residents of Greenwood until it was razed during the infamous and destructive 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
“The opportunity for me to start a company in Greenwood as a black business owner and to do it with something I love, with an inherently community-based company—that made it feel like the right time and the right endeavor,” Cooper said when she opened her shop in 2019. —Bea Baker
3014 N. 74th E. Ave., Tulsa, OK 74115
Wanda J, owner of Evelyn’s Soul Food Cuisine, got the name and inspiration from her mother Evelyn, who taught her how to cook from the soul. Wanda took those lessons and applied them here in Tulsa. She also owns Wanda J’s Next Generation Restaurant in the Greenwood District.
Daily lunch specials at Evelyn's range from beef tips to meatloaf and neckbones. Fried catfish and chicken are favorites. Entrees come with two vegetable sides including mac and cheese, candied yams, greens, brown beans, mashed potatoes, green beans or okra and tomatoes. If you have room for dessert, Evelyn’s offers an all-you-can-eat dessert bar. The early afternoon can bring a crowd, but as the staff puts it, “it would be right if it wasn’t hectic.” —Gary Mason
111 N. Greenwood Ave., Tulsa, OK 74120
A small space belies a big history in Wanda J’s, a ten-table restaurant located on Tulsa’s historic Black Wall Street. Known for its soul food, it’s existed in some form or another since 1974, in various locations. Stylized as “Next Generation,” this African-American-owned business is now run by the granddaughters of the original Wanda.
The service is friendly and quick, and the food is southern-style, down-home cooking made to order. Local businesses advertise with postcards on the windowsills. The feeling you get when you walk in is that you’ve been gone for a long time, and they’ve been expecting you.
Try the smothered chicken special on Mondays: with two pieces of chicken, two sides, and a roll or cornbread, it’ll fill you up without punishing your wallet. The chicken is smothered in brown chicken gravy after frying, and is perfectly tender and juicy.
For sides, try the mustard greens: tender and succulent, with a few bits of pork thrown in for good measure and flavor. The yams are also a great choice, and are sweet and melt-in-your-mouth cooked. With good food, good service, and a family-focused atmosphere, you’ll leave with your stomach and your heart full. —Zack Reeves
210 W. Latimer St., Tulsa, OK 74106
Onikah Asamoa-Caesar knows that knowledge is power. A book lover who started her career in child welfare, her new venture is a bookstore and coffee shop focused on BIPOC literature. Patrons can purchase their Ally Box or shirts from the Fulton Street website as well as shop in store. —Mason Powell
2115 Martin Luther King Blvd., Tulsa, OK 74106
Another Tulsa food truck-to-brick-and-mortar success story, Waffle That opened its doors on the north side of the city in September 2019. Owner Roy Tillis saw a chicken and waffle-shaped void in the local market and filled it with a modern, more savory take on the classic dish. Tillis's waffle comes with chicken strips and fried leaks in addition to his syrupy, but not too sweet, Waffle That sauce. It's a must.
Waffle That's menu doesn't end there. It's broken up into breakfast, lunch and dessert waffles and contains another fun innovation: some dishes come served in a waffle cone. Yes, like, for ice cream. Trust me, you need more Waffle That in your life. —Matt Carney
3508 S. Sheridan Rd., Tulsa, OK 74145
Purple bamboo surrounds the bar at Juicemaker Lounge, one of east Tulsa's most consistent nightly purveyors of local music. Purple overhead lighting and purple crushed velvet curtains set the ambiance, while purple strobe lights wander about. What we're saying is ... this place is real funky.
Juicemaker is run by Tori Ruffin, an accomplished musician and industry veteran who used to play in Morris Day's backing band, The Time. Ruffin also plays regularly in two of Tulsa's best funk-rock fusion bands — Freak Juice and Full Flava Kings. You'll want to thank him for the funky time. —Matt Carney
782 E. Pine St., Tulsa, OK 74106
Sweet Lisa’s Cafe is a no-frills soul food restaurant: your options are tilapia, catfish, wings, chicken breast, and pork chops. What the restaurant lacks in fancy options, though, it makes up for with flavor.
The food is cooked to order—this is not fast food. The wings are a standout item: the breading is still sizzling when they leave the kitchen. Impeccably seasoned, the chicken is salty, moist, and breaded with machine-like perfection. For a side, try the mac and cheese: tangy and delicious, the sauce has a little sweetness as well. Speaking of, bring your sweet tooth. Sweet Lisa’s started out as a bakery and still offers a variety of sweet treats: cakes, brownies, cobblers, slices of pie, cheesecakes, and more. They also offer sugar-free options. —Zack Reeves
10 N. Greenwood Ave. Suite 101, Tulsa, OK 74120
Black Wall Street Liquid Lounge serves up all of the smooth vibes that the name entails. Walking into the coffee shop in downtown’s Greenwood District, friendly baristas greet you. The menu includes tea, espresso, pour overs, and more exotic looking frappes. Find a seat near the bright green wall or sit at the bar overlooking Greenwood Avenue. With an event space in the back for private events and specials for seniors and students, BWSLL fosters the Tulsa community well while providing a jazzy cup o’ joe. —Bea Baker
2248 N. Harvard Ave., Tulsa, OK 74115
Bring an empty stomach for this literal meat-and-potatoes eatery in north Tulsa. Rubicon Restaurant specializes in potatoes, skinless and smoked. The brisket potato, Rubicon’s crown jewel, is the most popular item by far.
For $11 you can get a potato with beef brisket and one topping, salad and toast. Rubicon doesn’t skimp on the toppings: try the hot links if you like it a little spicy, and they’ll overflow the potato to the brim. You might not even know there’s a potato under all that meat under you get to it. The brisket is tender and well-seasoned, the potato so smooth you don’t need butter, and the cheese a welcome respite from the heat and spice.
The potato might be big enough for two meals: you could share or take it home; we won’t tell. Don’t come to Rubicon in a big hurry: as you might’ve guessed from the phrase “smoked potato,” this is not a fast food restaurant. It is, however, a restaurant with a big heart, kind service, and delicious potatoes. —Zack Reeves
4130 S. Peoria Ave., Tulsa, OK 74106
When you walk into Elmer’s, you’re walking into the history of the blues: blues plays on the speakers, and the walls are covered with blues memorabilia. B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and W.C. Hardy are all represented here; a guitar signed by King himself hangs in the dining room, along with trumpets, records, and photographs of blues shows past. There’s even a copy of the “Blues News,” a publication of the Blues Society of Tulsa, on the shelves by the entrance.
But you’re here for the BBQ. “The Famous Badwich” is Elmer’s crown jewel: as much a sampler platter as it is a sandwich, the Badwich is a plate of smoked rib, chopped beef, bologna, and hot links or smoked sausage, along with Texas Toast or a bun and two sides. The baked beans with chunks of beef are smoky and sweet, and the potato salad is creamy and delicious. Depending on your proclivities, the Badwich could be split between two people. —Zack Reeves
322 N. Greenwood Ave., Tulsa, OK 74120
While not technically a business, the Greenwood Cultural Center is nonetheless a landmark of black culture in Tulsa. The Center preserves African-American heritage and promotes positive images of the African-American community by providing educational and cultural experiences, promoting intercultural exchange and encouraging cultural tourism. —Root staff
2235 N. Harvard Ave., Tulsa, OK 74115
This no-nonsense barbeque joint won't leave you hungry. Chicken, ribs, brisket, loaded potatoes, and hot links are just some of the options. If you're feeling extra hungry, they sell meat by the pound as well. —Gary Mason
3147 S. Harvard Ave., Tulsa, OK 74135
Moses Okoro moved from the Big Apple to Tulsa and brought his love of New York-style pizza with him. He opened Umberto’s in January of 1998, and brought an authentic slice of New York life to the center of Tulsa. Ever since, Umberto’s has served up delicious slices of pizza to Tulsans and their families.
Umbertos makes dough fresh daily, and their hand-tossed, thin crust is crisp and savory. Their cheese is creamy and their sauce is perfectly seasoned. Their classic recipe evokes the perfect slice of pizza you would find on a street corner in New York city.
Stop by for a full pie with a combination of toppings such as Italian sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon and a wide variety of veggies. Customers can also order pizza by the slice with traditional toppings such as pepperoni, supreme and veggie.
Whether you're dropping in for a quick slice or ordering a plethora of pizzas for catering, definitely top your order off with Umberto’s signature savory garlic knots.
Noteworthy tips: Umbertos offers a special Monday through Wednesday for one large pizza with two toppings for $8.50. The offer is only available with pick-up orders.—Madeline Roper
601 S. Sheridan Rd., Tulsa, OK 74112
Owner Leon Thompson opened this hole-in-the-wall barbecue spot in east Tulsa after retiring from a long career with the Tulsa County District Court. You can't go wrong with any of their smoked meats, but do be sure to order Them Beans. They toss little fatty chunks of brisket in with them for extra hearty flavor. —Matt Carney
800 N. Peoria Ave., Tulsa, OK 74106
Located in north Tulsa's Crutchfield neighborhood, the Retro is a nightclub that hosts live music and comedy.
Retro also serves lunch. There you'll find plenty of fried-up soul food and daily specials: wings, fried vegetables and chicken sandwiches. There's a back patio, a pool table and hip-hop and R&B on the loudspeakers. —Root staff
This media company is based in Tulsa, Oklahoma and advocates for the local and national African American communities, championing “equity for approximately 100 years.” This has been, according to their website: “a century-long journey of shared struggles and triumphs for human rights, civic equality, economic enfranchisement and judicial reform.” Through a print and digital reach, The Oklahoma Eagle services 36 U.S. states and territories and abroad. They are the 10th oldest Black-owned publication in the United States still in circulation. Subscribe online for balanced and fair reporting. —Mason Powell