Juneteenth Foodways Festival celebrates history, community and food

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For the third year in a row, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential site held the Juneteenth Foodways Festival, an event honoring the holiday and former White House chef Dolly Johnson, from 4-8 p.m. June 14. (Photo/Chloe McGowan)
For the third year in a row, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential site held the Juneteenth Foodways Festival, an event honoring the holiday and former White House chef Dolly Johnson, from 4-8 p.m. June 14. (Photo/Chloe McGowan)

The third annual Juneteenth Foodways Festival brought in a record crowd over the weekend.

For the third year in a row, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential site held the Juneteenth Foodways Festival, an event honoring the holiday and former White House chef Dolly Johnson, from 4-8 p.m. June 14. The annual festival features Black-owned restaurants and food trucks, small businesses and community partners coming together to offer Indianapolis just a taste of how Black cuisines “add flavor to America’s favorite foods.”

“Juneteenth is something that people don’t talk about, and I feel like it just became popular even though it’s something that should have been celebrated years ago,” Kiara Doss told the Recorder.

Marsha Quarles of Marsha's Specialty Desserts presented her twist on Dolly Johnson's famous pecan cake at the 2024 Juneteenth Foodways Festival on June 14, 2024 at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential site. (Photo/Chloe McGowan)
Marsha Quarles of Marsha’s Specialty Desserts presented her twist on Dolly Johnson’s famous pecan cake at the 2024 Juneteenth Foodways Festival on June 14, 2024 at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential site. (Photo/Chloe McGowan)

The Juneteenth Foodways Festival featured 25 local Black-owned food partners such as Guy’s Cooking Creation, The Jollof Buka, KsKrazy Eats, Market Square Popcorn, Samora Red Catering, Forked Up Catering, Gals Fresh Fish and more. Doss said festivals like this one offer a great opportunity for people to “see what’s out there” and try different foods while supporting local businesses.

“I don’t like much, so this honestly gave me a taste of different things I need to start trying,” Doss said. “I loved it, I’ll be back next year.”

Vendors lined the grounds of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential site, offering everything you could think of from jollof rice and jerk chicken to shrimp sliders, chicken spaghetti, baked mac ‘n cheese, vegan cinnamon rolls, pecan pie, boba and more.

The event is free to attend with registration and friends, family and community young and old came out to celebrate and enjoy the wide variety of cuisine. Many of the businesses vending — such as Marsha’s Specialty Desserts & Tierney’s Catering and Generations Pie Company — celebrated their second year, participating in the Dolly Johnson’s People’s Choice contest and presenting one of her famous recreations.

Marsha Quarles, of Marsha’s Specialty Desserts, presented a table of homemade desserts from red velvet cake to peach cobbler bars and dessert shooter. Located in Avon, Quarles’ business is entirely family-owned and run. Although they have been doing this for more than 30 years, they have only been in business for the last 14.

Michael and Maria Johnson of Generations Pie Company brought their famous sweet potatoe pie to the 2024 Juneteeth Foodways Festival on June 14, 2024 at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. (Photo/Chloe McGowan)
Michael and Maria Johnson of Generations Pie Company brought their famous sweet potato pie to the 2024 Juneteeth Foodways Festival on June 14, 2024 at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. (Photo/Chloe McGowan)

Quarles was one of last year’s Choice Award Winners and said this year, she put a spin on one of Johnson’s desserts with her mini pecan pies.

“I was curious about chef Dolly, so I researched her,” Quarles said. “In my research, I came across that she was famous for pecan cake, so I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna do a twist on that and do pecan pies.’”

Michael and Maria Johnson, owners of Generations Pie Company, returned to the festival for a second year. The couple started their business in Indianapolis in 2016, and all the pies are named after the original baker in each of their families, covering about 18 different states and areas of England.

“Every last pie has a story, and the story is the person who gave us the original recipe,” Michael Johnson said. “It means a lot to bring the heritage that we have, our African American Heritage, for everyone to enjoy and to share.”

For more information about the Juneteenth Foodways Festival, visit bhpsite.org/events/juneteenth.

Contact Arts & Culture Reporter Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848. Follow her on X @chloe_mcgowanxx.