Browse Tag

family business

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Black Owned Restaurant Fighting For Survival after Legal Battle with Gentrifying Developers

Bintimani is a Black owned restaurant operated by Sierra Leonean natives, wife-and-husband duo Baindu and Sahr Josiah-Faeduwor. Earlier this year, Bintimani, a pillar of Boston’s West African dining scene at the time, was forced to leave the space they’ve called home since 2009.

We caught up with their son, Aiyah to find out more about a situation that is both heart wrenching and heartwarming.

black owned restaurant
Aiyah Josiah-Faeduwor

Briefly describe your parent’s journey to the US?

My dad came from Sierra Leone, West Africa in the late 70’s on a student visa with the goals of becoming an engineer, starting a family, and pursuing the “American Dream.” By his 30’s, he had amassed 5 advanced degrees in the agriculture and engineering fields, been working for NASA, and he and my mom were forming a solid foundation for me and my 4 siblings to reap the benefits of their sacrifice.

However, life happened, my parents separated, and my Dad was awarded custody of 5 children under the age of 13. Unable to maintain jobs in such a highly demanding industry, my Dad was forced to figure out another way to support his family. As we hauled our worldly possessions into a small Uhaul, we came to Boston, to live with my aunt, and it seemed my parents’ American Dream was all but deferred.

black owned restaurant
Baindu and Sahr Josiah-Faeduwor operated Bintimani in Roxbury for 11 years until they were evicted. (Terrence B. Doyle/Eater)

What challenges did your parents face as immigrant entrepreneurs?

In 2008 my dad eventually re-married, and he and my step-mom, a recent Sierra Leonean immigrant, chose to be entrepreneurs, as not many “traditional” career paths were available to either of them given their various constraints.

They started a fresh fruit market in Roxbury’s Dudley Square, which eventually became a West African Cuisine restaurant they named “Bintimani” after Mount Bintimani, the tallest peak in Sierra Leone. As Africans, in a historically and predominantly African-American community, they had much adjusting and learning to do to be “accepted” and supported within this community, not just by residents/potential customers, but also by government and business institutions needed to build capacity.

For much of their 13-year journey, they fought with and against the current, to pass health code requirements, in a dilapidated and neglected building, within a significantly under-resourced and overpoliced community. Through determination and quality cuisine, they built a strong and loyal customer base that ultimately garnered the recognition of trusted critics like Boston Eater, which in 2019 named Bintimani one of New England’s 38 Essential Restaurants and featured regularly in their publication.

It would have seemed that my family, even though pivoted and delayed, was on its way to the destination my parents dreamed of upon their arrival to the States — until the Boston Real Estate Collaborative (BREC) purchased the building that housed Bintimani for 13 years with the aims of converting the space into luxury co-living apartments.

What sparked the legal battle between your parent’s business and BREC?

Originally BREC communicated their intent was to close the building down for renovations, and then allow the 15 or so East and West African micro-business tenants to apply for tenancy in the new development upon completion. Without guarantees of tenancy, if/when, or a communicated plan for how these businesses would operate in the interim without a physical place of business, the intentions were clear, that this was a de facto gentrification-induced displacement in the newly re-named district of “Nubian Square.”

Out of options, my dad called me, because he had no one else, but also given my background in community engagement around issues facing BIPOC folks, and a current MBA and City Planning student at MIT. I reached out to my community organizing contacts, and the City of Boston municipal network, and we were able to obtain 1 year commitments to not-evict tenants until construction began, giving the businesses a year to sort out their affairs and eventually leave on their own accord.

This pyrrhic victory not only did not yield the ideal outcome of guaranteeing a sustained plan for this group of businesses, but it also position Bintimani as rabble rousers in the eyes of the developers, putting a target on my parents’ back that ultimately resulted in the landlord’s pursuit of their eviction, catalyzed by the pandemic. Unable to keep up with rent, as soon as the moratorium on evictions was lifted,  Bintimani was ousted. 

How has the community come together to support the business?

Since moving to Providence, Rhode Island in 2009 to attend Brown University as an undergrad, I fell in love with the vibrant, quirky, and deeply interconnected community within the nation’s smallest state. As an involved and engaged community member and agent, by the time of Bintimani’s eviction, I had built a strong network and community of folks who, at the news of my family’s situation, immediately sprung to action offering sympathy and support towards an optimistic outcome.

Buff Chace, of Cornish Associates, a real estate company that owned many of the buildings in downtown Providence, reached out and offered my family tenancy in a prime location at 326 Westminster St, in the heart of downtown. Grateful and honored we gladly accepted the offer and set our sights on moving the family, and our business to Providence. The Boston Globe covered our story, and this led to an even stronger outpouring of support that both encouraged and affirmed the transition to be one that was born from turmoil but had the potential to be an even more fruitful and ideal location for our family business.

What is the status of the business now?

Since being offered tenancy, we’ve sought to raise the necessary funds to complete the build out and fit out of our space at 326 Westminster. We have utilized WeFunder, a crowd-sourced investment platform to raise $50,000 towards the build, as well as successfully obtained a $99,000 microloan from the Papitto Foundation to support capital costs.

In addition to fundraising,  we have begun catering to the RI and MA areas, and have hosted pop ups with community partners in Providence to get our cuisine out to this new market that we’re still learning about and meeting as a new business in the already vibrant culinary scene.

What are your future plans and how can we support you?

Given the ups and downs of our experience, and my background as an urban planner, and believer in the value of community-centered entrepreneurship, we have incorporated into our business plan, and the physical build of our space, the need to support BIPOC entrepreneurs as a critical component of business model.

To this end, we expect to host guest-chefs and vendors, as well as community agents, to utilize and share our space as a launch point, incubator, and community node, that operates to return the value that has been invested in us to land on our feet in this new community. In order to make this possible, we still have a long ways to go towards our needed goal of raising $400K for the build out of our space. What helps most currently is an investment in our WeFunder, contributions to our GoFundMe, and/or support and connection to capital for owners with high-risk creditworthiness.

Beyond the financial support, opportunities and platforms to share our story have been critical to our growing support, and we would greatly appreciate all support to reach more folks who resonate with our story of sacrifice, struggle, and deeply rooted belief in the immense power of community.

Tony O. Lawson


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This Black Owned Toy Business Is Playing No Games During The Coronavirus Crisis

Matthew and Marnel met while attending Howard University for graduate school. Marriage and three young children later, they created a toy business called Puzzle Huddle.

We caught up with Matthew to see how his business and family is being affected by the Coronavirus crisis.

Black Owned Toy Business
Marnel and Matthew

What were your initial thoughts when you learned about the outbreak?

We were concerned very early because our puzzles are manufactured globally and our partners were affected by the Coronavirus in January. We did not expect the health crisis to transition this quickly and profoundly to the United States.

How has it affected your business?

We had several significant televised media opportunities and pop-up events cancelled. Following many school closures, we experienced an increase in sales with parents looking for resources to keep their children busy and learning at home. In cases where we run out of inventory, our ability to receive new products is delayed.

How has it affected your lifestyle?

We have three young children (ages 6, 4, and 3) that have all been affected by school closures. At home we’re doing our best to create learning activities to keep our kids on track academically. Their learning time includes age appropriate math, reading, art, spanish, outdoor activities, puzzles, and public speaking (online using Facetime with family members).

What new strategies have you implemented or do you plan to implement in your business?

We are using our social media channels to highlight educational activities, tips, and resources for parents and students that are affected by school closures. There are so many homeschooling experts on social media and teachers that have gone online. We want to bring attention to those resources.

We’re also making adjustments to our product line and supply chain strategy to minimize specific vulnerabilities in the future. Beginning this summer we’ll have multiple products and revenue generation strategies to help manage our business’ risk profile.

We don’t know to the extent that our community is experiencing job and income uncertainty. We use our social media to give products away on a weekly basis and we hope to continue doing that so we can reach families that may not be in a position to buy our products during the public health crisis.

If you had one ask of your community right now, what would it be?

Connect with us through social media and let us know what resources and activities you are using to power through this experience. It’s been amazing watching our community mobilize online to support their children’s learning and care for each other.

There’s also been a lot of comedic relief from parents as they post about their experiences at home managing their children’s day during the school closures. Now is an awesome time to introduce a new puzzle into your homes.

-Tony O. Lawson

Related: Young Couple Creates Culturally Inclusive Toys 

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How the outbreak has affected this Black Owned Bed & Breakfast

The Cochrane House is an art-filled, 18th century mansion in Detroit’s historic Brush Park, located in the heart of Downtown Detroit.

This family owned bed and breakfast has been hit hard since the global outbreak of the Coronavirus. We caught up with the owners to find out how they are dealing with this new reality.

What were your initial thoughts when you learned about the outbreak?

We didn’t think the initial outbreak would be as serious as it turned out to be. When the State of Michigan initially announced the outbreak, there were only two cases of COVID-19. The next day, the State of Michigan had 12 cases. Later that week, the state had 53 cases.

We knew that these were only reported cases, and not an actual count of people who may have the virus. Once we saw the number of people with the virus rise, we took the outbreak seriously. The virus was, reportedly, rapidly spreading by people who travelled internationally and domestically.

This concerned us even more, because we are in the travel industry, and we host these international and domestic travelers. There were so many feelings and emotions: Should we close the Bed and Breakfast for our safety/health? How will we survive if the travel industry takes a hit? We were worried, anxious and pre-cautious. We still are.

Cochrane house owners, Roderica and Francina James

How has it affected your business?

This pandemic has affected our business a great deal! In the area where we are located, the only major city in the United States with all major sport teams and theatre district in one area, there are over 265 event days a year. We get most of our customers from baseball games, hockey games, and concerts. So, when the governor put an executive order in place, cancelling all events in which more than 50 people will attend, that affects everyone in the area, including us.

Our business went from weekday/weekend bookings and small events to very low activity. We’ve experienced a lot of cancellations, a low volume of calls, and seen a side of our customers that we’ve never seen before. A lot of disgruntled customers are upset about our credit voucher policy, in lieu of a refund. This situation has taught us to stay steadfast in the implementation of the policies we created, in order to assure the business’s success.

It has been hard, because as small business owners, we are close to our customers and operate with more of a heart, instead of the shrewd business acumen seen in larger companies; but, we strive to meet our customers half way on these issues. As business owners, we are learning the importance of crafting specific policies for situations such as this one, putting them into effect in advance, so we will not risk the overall stability of the business. These policies may be the difference between your business thriving or your business sinking. As entrepreneurs, we are called to make those hard decisions when it counts.

 How has it affected your lifestyle?

During this pandemic we have definitely learned to cut back on unnecessary expenses and budget the money that we do have. It also allows us time to organize. We are using the time to strategize on how to make the business better, once this pandemic is over.

Also, while the COVID-19 quarantine is a novel experience in itself; so far, it’s been filled with loud music, cooking and happy hour spring cleaning. Ultimately, knowing and understanding that faith outweighs fear; it helps to keep us grounded.

What new strategies have you implemented or do you plan to implement in your business?

We are focusing on Plan B at the moment. Everyone in small business should have a contingency plan, even before times of emergency. For example, what will you use in order to keep your business afloat during times of crisis? Will you be relying on your savings/rainy day account?

Do you have a savings/rainy day account? Are you looking to borrow from your investments, acquiring a loan or liquidate some of your assets? It’s unfortunate that we have to examine these options at this time, but it is something worth considering, even outside of a pandemic.

We have a small reserve, budgeted for emergencies, but we definitely did not project a pandemic when budgeting our cost. I can’t imagine many business owners that prepared for this. So, we are staying prayerful and mindful of this situation.

If you had one ask of your community right now, what would it be?

At the end of this pandemic, we are hopeful that people are intentional about patronizing small, independent black businesses. Be aware that business owners have lost traction during this pandemic, an immediate gain in consumers and support will be essential.

In our situation, there is no way to predict what the travel industry will look like at the end of this pandemic, and financial recovery may be slow due to existing fears and residual panic. We pray to regain the same supporters that we have cherished through these last two years of business, and hopefully gain new supporters.

During situations like these, it’s difficult for businesses to survive such a big hit. Once this is over we have to organize more than ever before.

 

Related: Two sisters opened a Bed & Breakfast in Detroit

 

-Tony O. Lawson

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Meet The 3 Brothers Who Created Their Own Candle Brand

Fréres Branchiaux Candle Company is a handmade body, candle, and home fragrance goods company created by brothers Collin, Ryan, and Austin Gill.

We caught up with the brothers to find out more about them and their business.

Candle Brand
Collin, Austin and Ryan Gill

How did you decide to start this business?

We love watching Nerf videos on Youtube.  We wanted to create our own Nerf was YouTube channel.  We asked our mom for more money for Nerf guns (Ryan and Austin) and for PS4 games (Collin).  She said “no” and told us to “get a job or start a business.”  So, we decided to start a business!  We also decided to give back to the community by donating 10% of our proceeds to homeless shelters in the DC Metro area.

The whole fam at big bro’s graduation.

How do you select what fragrances and designs to use?

We get samples of fragrances that we think we might like and we mix them.  We usually mix 2 to 3 fragrances to create new scents.  We are candle mixologists!  Our mom (Celena Gill) is in control of the designs on the candles, diffusers, and room sprays.  She used to do the designs when we first started but now we have a graphic designer.  Our mom shows us new designs and we approve them–or reject them–to put on the products.

Candle Brand

What part of being a business owner do you like the most? What part do you like the least?

We like making our own money and deciding how we are going to spend it.  We love traveling to new places to vend and meet new people. There’s not really anything that we don’t like about being business owners.

What is it like working with your brothers?

It is fun most of the time–but it can be aggravating too. Sometimes, we want to hang with our friends and not just be around each other.  Since we are homeschooled, we are around each other ALL OF THE TIME.  So, every now and then, we need a break–and then we’re fine!

Do you have an adult that you are getting support from? What type of support?

Yes, we get support from our mom and dad.  Mom handles all of the appointments, bills, vending, marketing, and design.  Dad (Patrick Gill) is our official driver, organizes and sets up our vending tables/booths, and helps mom organize the candles for shipping and for special events.

Does each person have a different role or you all share the same responsibilities?

We have different roles and responsibilities.  Collin is the CEO. He is the chief candlemaker and usually leads us during production and at events.  He is our official spokesperson.  Ryan is our Chief Financial Officer.  He keeps track of our finances with mom, takes care of the money at events, and sets our financial goals for each show.

Austin, better known as Ace, is our Chief Marketing Officer.  He wicks and cleans the candles.  He is also our “face” when we go out in public–he knows how to bring customers in with his smile! We all work together to make Freres Branchiaux Candle Co. successful!

Website: Fréres Branchiaux Candle Company

 

-Tony Oluwatoyin LAwson (IG@thebusyafrican)