Taste of Diversity’s Meet the Cooks: Manna @ Northland

Manna@Northland chef Reginald Ingram and Dale Holt
Manna@Northland's chef Reginald Ingram and Dale Holt
Buffalo’s East Side has often been referred to as a food desert because residents lack supermarkets, grocery stores, and low-cost healthy food choices.

When Dale Holt, his wife Tina, and chef Reginald Ingram decided to open a restaurant on Buffalo’s East Side, divine inspiration led them to name it Manna @ Northland. According to the Bible, Manna was the sustenance that rained down from the sky to help feed the Israelites during their exodus from slavery to the Promised Land.

But landing in the building that houses the Northland Workforce Training Center was a journey. Dale, a chef who spent decades in New Orleans, honing his cooking skills and business acumen, says they beat out 50 other restaurants for the coveted location (this after the initial restaurant in that space called it quits after just ten days!).

The Holts and their partner Ingram hit the ground running. They offer a breakfast and lunch menu featuring Creole-inspired favorites like gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp, and grits, as well as traditional favorites and vegetarian choices.      

Holt says the move here had its challenges. Among them was COVID-19. They started with 26 employees, but that number dropped to 16. They also had to decide how to provide healthy foods at an affordable price to one of the city’s most economically challenged communities.

“The challenge is being a business in Western New York. It’s not just being a Black-owned business because we can prepare everything from greens to caviar. That’s one reason we’re excited to have this platform on the East Side. We connect with the entire community of Buffalo,” said Holt.

Holt says he’s proud to be one of the five restaurants chosen to highlight their food in Erie County’s Level Up Taste of Diversity Program at ECC South. Erie County Legislator April Baskin created the program following the May 14th shooting at the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue that claimed ten lives. Baskin wanted to develop a program that would address some of the issues highlighted by the tragic shooting, such as the economic disparities and lack of economic opportunities in communities of color.

The program aims to allow minority-owned restaurants to get a feel for working in a high-volume, fast-paced environment like a sports stadium. Under the new Buffalo Bills Stadium Community Benefits Agreement, 30% of concessionaires are required to be a local minority or woman-owned business enterprise.

Also, the Bills have committed to a small business grant after the 6-week project, which kicked off in November and runs every Monday through January.

While some might be intimidated by serving thousands of hungry football fans at the new Bills stadium, Holt says he’s more than ready for the challenge.

“Legislator April Baskin is doing a great thing to expose the opportunities that should be available to all of us. But at Manna, my partners and I fed 5,000 people during the 5/14 aftermath. We did tremendous things with World Kitchen. So, yes, the numbers are very exciting for us, but this is not our first rodeo. We come from a corporate background and have served large numbers throughout our community and Buffalo.”    

By Kevin Jolly