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New $45 Million Government Grant Program Prioritizes Black Owned Businesses in New Jersey

Good news for Black owned businesses in New Jersey. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) recently announced that applications for the expanded Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program will be available at 9:00 a.m. on June 9, 2020.

Only 12% of minority-owned businesses received federal relief funding from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). To address this disparity, NJEDA is reserving $15 million for businesses in Opportunity Zone-eligible census tracts and launching an aggressive and targeted outreach campaign so that businesses in historically underserved communities have increased access and priority for relief.

A sample application that small business owners can use to prepare is available at http://cv.business.nj.gov/.

The NJEDA received $50 million from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund established under the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to support small businesses.

In Phase 1 of the NJEDA’s Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program, the agency provided more than $8 million in grants to date to nearly 2,500 businesses across all 21 counties.

The NJEDA will now provide an additional $5 million to fund businesses that were waitlisted during Phase 1 and will use $45 million to fund Phase 2.

The new round will provide grants up to $10,000 to qualified applicants and aims to support a wider variety of companies, including home-based businesses and sole proprietorships. The funding is also open to churches and nonprofit organizations.

Eligibility changes for Phase 2 increase the employee cap for businesses from 10 full-time employees (FTEs) to 25 FTEs and remove the NAICS code restrictions that were in place for Phase 1 to allow almost all businesses as well as 501(c)(3), 501 (c)(4), and 501(c)(7) nonprofit organizations to qualify for funding.

Applications for Phase 2 of the Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program will be available on June 9, 2020. NJEDA staff will process the applications on a first-come, first-served basis. There will be no application fee.

As part of the application, the business’s Chief Executive Officer or equivalent officer must certify that the company was in operation on February 15, 2020, has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, and will make a best effort not to furlough or lay off any employees.

To comply with duplication of benefits provisions within the Stafford Act, all applicants will also be required to fill out an affidavit identifying all funding previously received related to COVID-19, including Small Business Administration loans and grants, forgivable portions of Payroll Protection loans, and Economic Injury Disaster grants.

To learn more about NJEDA resources for businesses call NJEDA Customer Care at 609-858-6767 or visit https://www.njeda.com and follow @NewJerseyEDA on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

 

-Tony O. Lawson

Related: 24 Black Owned New Jersey Businesses


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Feature image: (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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Adenah Bayoh to Serve Free Breakfast & Lunches at Her 3 IHOPs and Guarantee 2 Weeks of Pay for Her Workers

Restaurateur and real estate developer Adenah Bayoh announced yesterday that she will be providing free take-out breakfast and lunch on weekdays at her 3 IHOP locations, Paterson, Newark, and Irvington, NJ every day until school reopens.

adenah bayoh
Adenah Bayoh

Starting March 19th, families in need can pick up pancakes for breakfast from 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. and sandwiches for lunch between 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. While this measure is to provide for children who are out of school and have therefore lost access to breakfast and lunch, any individual who is in need during this crisis can take advantage of this opportunity.

“The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the most vulnerable people in our society,” remarked Adenah Bayoh, Founder of Adenah Bayoh & Companies. “I grew up in communities where I learned that nothing is more important than taking care of each other.

No child should go without a meal because schools are closed. No adult should be hungry while navigating the risks of a global pandemic. It is my pleasure and privilege to serve the communities that have been so integral to the success of my businesses.”

Adenah is also working with Irvington Councilwoman Jamillah Z. Beasley, to deliver free meals to seniors in Irvington. While all of Adenah’s businesses, including the 4 New Jersey and Pennsylvania locations of her Cornbread restaurants, will be on limited operations for the next 2 weeks, she has guaranteed that all of her employees will be paid, whether they are able to work or not.

adenah bayoh

She has tasked her general managers with ensuring that employees have everything they need including shift adjustments if they have childcare conflicts while school is out.

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“Unprecedented times require unprecedented solutions,” added Adenah. “This is a moment for businesses to step up and give back to the communities that support us every day. As business owners we must invest in the safety and security of the places we call home, and ensure that all of our people survive this crisis.”

Whether it is her annual “Breakfast for Dinner” event where she serves 750 families at her IHOP locations every December, or hosting Thanksgiving dinner for Newark families, Adenah makes it a priority to serve the communities where her businesses are located.

 

-Tony O.Lawson

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Couples, Inc. : Java and Michelle Help the Environment by Putting Your Food Waste to Work

Java’s Compost is a family-owned, full-service composting company that seeks to make composting as fast and convenient as possible. The husband and wife team, Java and Michelle Bradley of  South Orange, NJ, provide on-site composting equipment and services to sustainably dispose of food waste.

Their services include weekly at-home composting, consultation services, and the provision of a starter composting kit for customers’ homes. Additionally, excess household compost can be donated on the customer’s behalf to Java’s Compost’s urban farm partners in Newark.

We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate earth day than to spotlight a company that is doing their part to save the environment.

How did you both meet?

Michelle: We met in Massachusetts in 1992 as freshmen at Amherst College. We were mostly just friends there and luckily, didn’t start dating until after we graduated.

Java’s Compost
Java and Michelle Bradley

What inspired you to start a business together?

Michelle: Honestly, it wasn’t totally thought through. Java became really passionate about composting as a result of managing the compost system at a charter school in Newark. The transformation of taking what is normally considered trash and giving it a second chance at life, by turning into compost, was fascinating to him.

I, on the other hand, was completely repulsed by the idea and it literally took me years to even consider composting. I grew up in NYC and Java is from San Francisco so that should shed some light as to why!

After seeing the documentary, DIRT, the movie, I did a complete 180 and started to feel incredibly guilty when I threw away food. If I could feel this way, we knew there had to be other people that did too. So the idea to start a food scraps recycling service was born.

How do you balance being parents and business owners?

Michelle: Wow, great question. It’s anything but easy and most of the time we aren’t that successful at it. For the first year in business, all our “down time” would be spent working and much of it still is.

But we still make sure we keep up with our boys’ basketball practices and games, even if it means we have to bring some work along to do in between games or while we’re waiting for practices to be done.

Java’s Compost

Describe your individual personalities and how you blend them to make the business work?

Michelle: Blend them? We’re still working on that! Java and I are very different and going into business together has brought that out even more clearly. He is a gentle soul that would give away all his knowledge and expertise for free if he could.

He is extremely patient and works at a pace you would expect from a California kid. He is meticulous so his work is extremely thorough.

Java’s Compost

I, on the other hand, am the opposite. Growing up in Manhattan, I learned to do most things pretty quickly, which can serve a purpose but is not always good. I need to practice being more patient and also need to work on toning down my critical nature. My strengths lie in my ability to connect with people and get out there and hustle to help our business get to the next level.

What advice do you have for other couples in business together?

Michelle: Be willing to learn about and acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses. Be open to working on them but also be realistic in your expectations of one another. Java and I have been together for 22 years, so all our quirks and habits are pretty ingrained in us as is our dynamic.

Java’s Compost

Going into business together won’t change any of those things and may heighten them as you work through all the growing pains of starting a business. I think we went into a little naive thinking it will be “fun”. Some parts are fun and some challenging. Building something from nothing, together, is the best part.

Where do you see the business in 5 years?

Michelle: In 5 years, we hope Java’s Compost is known as the solution to residential and small scale commercial food waste production in Northern New Jersey. We want all people to understand that their food waste has value.

Right now, that is very hard to see when all food waste either gets piled up in a smelly landfill or burned in an incinerator. We’re trying to educate people that composting your food scraps reduces your garbage by more than 50% and that it actually turns into a valuable, useable product.

Java’s Compost

Composting can do everything from helping combat climate change to restore our nutrient depleted soils. Continuing to throw food in the trash isn’t sustainable and since we only have one planet that’s habitable at the moment, the sooner we adopt composting as the norm instead of the exception, the better it will be for all of us.

 

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG@thebusyafrican)

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Leslie Anderson, CEO of the NJ Redevelopment Authority

Leslie Anderson is President & CEO of the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority (NJRA), a multi-million dollar independent financing institution created by the state of NJ to transform economically distressed urban communities.

She is reportedly the only Black woman in the country that is leading an independent public financing institution. Under her leadership, NJRA has used its financial resources to leverage nearly $4 billion in new investments, helping to redevelop communities like Newark and Camden among many others.

Leslie Anderson

How are opportunity zones selected?

In short, Opportunity Zones are selected based on need. The program is intended to increase investment in low-income urban and rural communities. In New Jersey, we’re placing a special focus on what we refer to as “Tier 2” cities, which are the smaller cities that have an even more difficult time attracting investment because investors often prefer larger and more high profile markets. Currently 75 municipalities, representing every county in New Jersey, have received at least one Opportunity Zone.

The specific formula that we used to select which neighborhoods are designated Opportunity Zones is based on key economic indicators, including income, unemployment rate, property values, geographic distribution, access to transit, and the value of existing investments including those encouraged by state programs and incentives. We also worked to ensure that local mayors and our Congressional delegation had a voice in the selection process.

What are your thoughts on the notion that Opportunity Zones contribute to gentrification of Black communities?

 I certainly understand that concern as does Governor Phil Murphy and Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver. This is why we are creating an inclusive process that intentionally engages the communities that have been designated as Opportunity Zones.

We worked with the Governor’s Office and the Economic Development Authority (EDA) on a website and interactive mapping tool that creates a comprehensive resource for residents, local governments, and potential businesses and investors so there’s a level playing field and community organizations and residents are empowered with the access to information needed to make these decisions about their own communities. The Governor’s Office is holding a series of community forums in order to listen to the needs of each community and address concerns that may arise.

Dr. Lena Francis Edwards Apartments – The 64-Unit Development Named After a Pioneer African American Surgeon will Provide Affordable Housing for Families and Homeless Veterans

NJRA is also a crucial partner to the Qualified Opportunity Zone Funds, which allows us to identify designated redevelopment areas, and also ready-to-go projects. In this selection process, it is our goal that these new developments will be beneficial to all residents in a community.

A danger that we’ve identified currently in developing communities is that we’re seeing significant economic development in the downtown areas of our urban cities, but we’re not seeing the same progress in the neighborhoods outside of city centers.

NJRA has work hard to establish a legacy in the state of New Jersey of impacting and empowering local residents. Our core objective is to not only bring new investment, but to train the residents and community members in these areas to take charge of and leverage the change that’s occurring in their communities for their benefit.

What would you say is NJRA’s biggest success story?

I believe our biggest success story is the reputation we’ve established for being there first. Underserved urban communities face complex challenges, and NJRA is often the first entity to invest in vital redevelopment projects.

For this reason, the Authority adopted the tagline “we’re there first.” By investing first, NJRA communicates support and confidence to investors who may have overlooked a community. We often serve as the catalyst for private investment.

The Heldrich Hotel, New Jersey – Benchmark Hotel International

In 2014, we applied for and were awarded $20 million in New Market Tax Credits from the federal government, which allowed us to expand our reach and strengthen our impact.

This funding enabled the development of the Ray and Joan Kroc Center in Camden, a community and economic development project that provides health, education, training, and recreation services to low-income seniors, children, and families.

Ray & Joan Kroc Center – Provides a holistic approach to quality childcare, recreation, health and wellbeing services for distressed neighborhoods in Camden.

The Kroc Center serves 72 low-income children, 900 low-income residents at the health care center, and 1,000 households at the food pantry. Without the subsidy provided by our New Market Tax Credits this project would not have advanced.

What are some other NJRA programs that can spur economic growth in the Black community?

We have a number of exceptional programs designed to spur economic growth in Black and Latinx communities.

The Redevelopment Investment Fund (RIF): RIF provides flexible debt and equity financing for business and real estate ventures. Through RIF, NJRA offers direct loans, real estate equity, loan guarantees, and other forms of credit enhancements.

NJRA Bond Program: The Bond Program issues both taxable and tax-exempt bonds to stimulate revitalization in New Jersey’s urban areas. Bonds are issued at favorable interest rates to a broad range of qualified businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Urban Site Acquisition Program (NJUSA): In 1998, NJRA was provided with $25,000 to administer NJUSA, which is a revolving loan where funds are provided to facilitate the components of an urban redevelopment plan such as the acquisition, site preparation, or redevelopment of property. NJUSA also provides for-profit and nonprofit developers and municipalities with a form of bridge financing to acquire titles to property and other acquisition-related costs.

What type of projects would you most like to see in the communities you serve?

Currently, our number one goal is to ensure that the targeted low-income communities receive and fully benefit from the funding opportunities that will be generated by the Opportunity Zones. So we’ve been focused on identifying more high-impact redevelopment projects in these neighborhoods to ensure that the economic resurgences are reaching all residents.

To bolster our efforts, we’re also working on training municipal officials in these areas on the best practices for attracting redevelopment through our Redevelopment Training Institute.

What advice do you have for Black business owners and investors that are interested in economic development of their communities?

My advice for Black business owners and investors would be to take advantage of the variety of support services and resources that the public sector offers. There are financial incentives, public financing opportunities, and training programs that exist to help underserved business owners and investors. I already highlighted some of our financing programs.

Additionally, about 12 years ago, we created the Redevelopment Training Institute (RTI). It is a nationally recognized and regionally accredited training program that provides custom workshops on topics related to the complexities of the redevelopment process as well as the various financial incentives available to real estate developers and investors. Since inception, RTI has trained over 2,000 entrepreneurs, developers, nonprofits, attorneys, and elected officials.

Classes are offered regionally across the state of New Jersey, but can also be customized to your organization’s needs and delivered at your location. Participants from outside of New Jersey are also welcome. I encourage business owners and investors to sign up for RTI workshops. I invite those who are interested to visit www.njra.us/rti for more information.

 

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafrican)

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Assemblywoman Angela McKnight helps create laws that actually make a difference

In our collective pursuit of economic empowerment, it is important to acknowledge the role of politics. It is also important to acknowledge the public officials that are working to create the policies that can help us  achieve our economic goals.

Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, the 1st African American Assemblywoman for the 31st District for the state of New Jersey, is one such person.

Angela V. McKnight, newly elected as the 1st African American Assemblywoman for the 31st District for the state of New Jersey

What inspired you to get into politics?

Based on the prior work I had been doing in the community since about 2010; I was approached by the Mayor of Jersey City and the County Democratic Organization to run for the Legislative District 31 Assembly seat. After speaking with my family and close friends, we collectively decided that running for office would place me in a better position to advocate for my community.

As an elected official, I have been able to take the work that I have been doing on a local level and implement change through advocating and creating policies in our capital, Trenton, New Jersey.

What existing policies do you feel are most beneficial to business owners and what types don’t exist but should?

Some examples of policies on a state level that are beneficial to business owners are Opportunity Zones and Urban Enterprise Zones, New Jersey’s Small Business Development Centers, and various incentives for Minority/ Women Owned Businesses. The State of New Jersey aims to foster a thriving environment for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Our policies are very forward thinking; for example in 2018, New Jersey passed the strongest pay equity law in the country and paid sick leave. In order to make our economy stronger, I believe our state needs to raise our minimum wage to a livable wage so everyone can contribute to our economy without constantly struggling to make ends meet.

Photo credit: The Moorefield Group

You recently teamed up with Tiffany Aliche to get a financial literacy law passed. Can you explain the significance of this law?

This bill (A-1414) expands on the New Jersey Student Learning financial literacy standards that are in place for New Jersey public school students in grades K-8. What is unique about A-1414 is that it establishes uniform requirements for each grade from grades 6-8. With the current standards, which are not mandated by law, students must learn about various aspects of financial literacy “by the end of grade 4,” “by the end of grade 8” and “by the end of grade 12.”

Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche , Acting Governor Shiela Oliver and Assemblywoman Angela McKnight. Photo Credit: Anthony McKnight

Through A-1414, public school districts are mandated by law to incorporate financial literacy in each grade 6-8. The goal of this bill is to develop state-mandated, uniform requirements that districts must implement. In other words, the intent is to help students learn and implement best practices for managing money prior to adulthood.

The signing of Bill A1414 (Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, 3rd from left; Acting Governor Shiela Oliver, seated. Credit: Anthony McKnight)

What is a law or bill you got passed that benefits the business owners in your local community?

In 2018 I sponsored a piece of legislation, A-3754, which establishes a limited license for hair braiding. The bill was signed into law and went into effect on January 2, 2019.

I wanted to make sure that hair braiders, who are predominantly African-American and African immigrant women, are able to use their skills to support themselves and their families, without excessive regulation. I want to support entrepreneurship. As a result of this law, hair braiders can now practice their talents without fear of excessive fines.

Assemblywoman McKnight with a group of entrepreneurs that will benefit from legislation, A-3754 that she helped sign into law.

In your opinion how can entrepreneurs collaborate with their local government officials to promote economic development?

Entrepreneurs can collaborate with their local government officials by engaging in the process and letting them know what policies/ procedures are doing well and what can be improved. Without input from the community, local officials will not be able to accurately assess what is best for their constituents.

 

Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafrican)

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Shaq Partners With Black Owned Real Estate Development Firm to Build $79M Apartment Tower in N.J.

Shaquille O’Neal is partnering with a Black owned real estate development firm to build a 22-story apartment complex that will hover over the city’s downtown as its first high-rise in more than 50 years.

Black owned real estate development firm

“I remember when I was growing up (the city) used to be beautiful like this so the older I get, I want it to be a little more beautiful,” O’Neal told NJ Advance Media. “I invest in things that are going to make a difference.”

On Tuesday, O’Neal, a Newark native, was joined by Gov. Phil Murphy, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and Mayor Ras Baraka to mark a milestone in the building’s construction.

“Yet another piece of evidence that this city is on the rise, let there be no doubt about it,” Murphy said. “This is a city that has got a trajectory that is undeniable … as our big urban centers go, first and foremost as Newark goes, so goes the state of New Jersey.”

Black owned real estate development firm

The $79 million luxury apartments, developed by Boraei Development and O’Neal, are steps from the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the renovated Hahne & Co. building that includes a Whole Foods and the newest restaurant by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson.

The 168 apartments at 1 Rector Street will open by the end of the year with residents able to apply for a lease as soon as September, Wasseem Boraie told NJ Advance Media. He said the company bought the property — which used to house the old Science Park High School10 years ago — but construction didn’t begin until last October.

Wasseem Boraie, executive vice president of Boraie Development

“We were waiting for the right time,” Boraie said, citing new businesses in the area. “We all then build up around the supply.”

O’Neal also announced a new $150 million, 350-unit apartment complex with Boraie (whom he called “the Kobe Bryant of development”). The 35-story building on 777 McCarter Highway will be known as the “House that Shaq Built,” O’Neal said.

“I was born and raised here, I love this city,” O’Neal said during a press conference after struggling to lift the microphones at the podium to his height.

O’Neal recalled a 1992 visit to Newark to see his relatives. “My mother says to me, ‘I remember when this city used to be beautiful, somebody needs to come back and invest in this city and make it beautiful again,’ then she gave me the elbow to the chest like I’m that somebody,” he said.

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Black Owned New Jersey Businesses You Should Know

Here’s our list of Black Owned New Jersey Businesses. Check them out, support, and let us know and let us know which ones missed!

Black Owned New Jersey

Mo’Pweeze Bakery offers delectable treats like cupcakes, cakes, breads, cookies and pies that are just as indulgent as regular bakery items.

Bailey Li interiors is an interior designer with the ability to transform spaces into stunning environments.

Bella Nail Lounge and Beauty Bar is a stylish salon for manicures & pedicures, plus facials, waxing & eyelash extensions.

8 to 8 Barber Shop is a rapidly growing, forward thinking, hair therapy salon offering personalized hair & massage services to men, women, and children.

Blending pure Americana staples with the strong cultural cues of Indian cuisine, BURGER WALLA is a new twist on the BURGER joint.

Sugar Fetish Cakery is a custom cake design studio specializing in wedding cakes, specialty cakes, cupcakes, cookies, dessert tables and more.

Mac’n! by Mari specializes in making traditional french macarons with flavor & style.

Soul Xpressiion is a non-profit organization designed to educate students in the areas of fine and performing arts, stage management, stage production development, and how to utilize their gifts to inspire others.

DNT Dynamite Design describes the work of Daveia Odoi who offers professional illustration and graphic design services to various businesses, organizations, and individuals in need of high quality visuals.

 

Gideon’s Needle is a Bespoke Lifestyle brand. We custom design clothing based on your body shape and type.

Ikuzi Dolls are beautiful black dolls that come in different shades of brown, hair textures and hairstyles.

The Newark Times is the premier online multimedia and news site dedicated to sharing the narratives and perspectives of the great city of Newark NJ.

Butter + Nectar premium satin pillowcases that protect your curls and promote healthy hair and skin. Prevent the loss of natural hair oils, reduce breakage, split ends and tangles, and minimize frizz.

NoiaBrittany is a homemade, raw, organic, cruelty-free skin care line. Noia, for short, celebrates all skin types and improves skin care naturally.

Mr. Tod’s is a niche bakery specializing in pies and other baked goods made from scratch using all-natural ingredients.

Prime Surgicare specializes in minimally-invasive bariatric surgery for rapid, sustainable weight loss.

Tara Dowdell Group is a marketing and strategic consulting firm driven by a passion for helping socially conscious businesses, brands, and organizations grow.

Bro-Ritos Food Truck is a food truck that specializes in…burritos.

But-A-Cake specializes in making Butter Cakes, a delicious treat made with simple ingredients that result in a fusion of pound cake and vanilla angel food cake.

Black Swan Espresso is Newark’s first Specialty Coffee and Tea Shop. They specialize in using the highest quality international coffee beans in all their roasts.

Blueberry Cafe’ Juice Bar & Grille prepares Organic Cold Pressed Juices and Smoothies  along with Vegan Wraps and Soups that help people on their quest for good food and a good life.

Yamean Studios Films is a full service cinematography studio specializing in cinematic style wedding films.

She Imagined Sweets creates Mini Cheesecakes for birthday parties, baby showers, weddings, anniversaries, networking events.

Stellar Smile Center offers in office and take home whitening. They also have options for whitening for those with sensitive teeth.

Built in 1903, Akwaaba Buttonwood Manor is a colonial-style inn with modern amenities located in America’s oldest seaside resort, Cape May.

 

-Tony O. Lawson

If you would like to add your business to this list (or another) SUBMIT HERE.


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Adenah Bayoh Escaped Civil War and Built a $225M Real Estate Portfolio

When Adenah Bayoh was eight years old, civil war in Liberia forced her into a refugee camp. She immigrated to the U.S. when she was thirteen. By the time she was twenty-seven, she was one of the youngest IHOP franchise owners in the country. Her location soon became one of the most profitable in the Northeast.

Adenah has since received numerous awards and has been named one of the top 50 business women in New Jersey and one of Ebony Magazine’s Power 100. In 2015, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York named Adenah to its Small Business and Agricultural Advisory Council. We recently had a chat with her about her amazing journey. This is what she had to say:

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SB: What was the most valuable lesson you learned from your experience in a refugee camp?

AB: I learned that becoming a victim in difficult circumstances is a choice and that it was not going to be my choice. Escaping the war motivated me. I wanted to find opportunities and move forward instead of looking back.

I learned that even in the toughest situations there were always options and resources I could tap if I was willing to work hard enough. When we were in the refugee camp, my cousin and I would cross back into Liberia to get fruits and vegetables and then sell them in the camp in Sierra Leone. I was always hungry for opportunities.

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SB: You were very close to your grandmother. How did she shape the person you are today?

AB: My grandmother would always say, “you have to wake up before everyone else and do more than everyone else,” and that wasn’t just an inspirational quote. She really lived that way. My grandmother played a big part in raising me when we lived in Liberia because my parents were working in America to pay for our schooling.

My grandmother is an amazing woman. She owned over 100 acres of farmland, she owned restaurants, and she was involved in real estate. She was highly respected and growing up, she really helped to shape my entrepreneurial drive. When I was six, she told me that I had a skill for business and had me working in her restaurant. I’m really thankful to her for helping me to realize my own potential and giving me a space to learn at a young age.

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SB: What sparked your interest in real estate?

AB: Well, I knew it was a possible venture because as I mentioned, my grandmother owned a lot of real estate in Liberia. I chose to get involved because I knew it would be a solid investment.

In college at Fairleigh Dickinson University, I served as an Residents Assistant in the dorms and after I graduated and got my first renter, I realized that I was doing a lot of the same kind of work, except I was the benefactor.

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SB: Community development is a passion of yours. In what ways do use your businesses benefit the communities where they are located?

AB: After immigrating to the U.S., I lived in Newark and saw firsthand how this community was often overlooked by businesses and investors. The negative perceptions about crime and the lower-income population didn’t inspire a lot of businesses to invest and those that did invest didn’t bring the kind of quality goods and services that are offered in other communities.

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My goal was to bring high quality services to Newark and other urban markets and to ensure that my real estate development projects and other ventures bring value, generate opportunities, and serve as a catalyst for more economic development. I also make it a priority to utilize and support minority and local businesses and to invest in the people in these communities. I believed that when communities such as these get better the world gets better.
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SB: Why is it important for you to expand your business interests to West Africa? What are you planning for West Africa?

AB: I have a yearning to help rebuild my home country of Liberia. I’m currently working to start a nonprofit called “Hope Well” there. It will be a mobile clinic that can provide medical care, screenings, and important supplies to the villages in the country’s interior.

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SB: This summer, you will open your first fine dining establishment, Cornbread. What should we know about Cornbread?

AB: I’m really proud to announce that Cornbread will be my own signature line of fast casual, farm-to-table, soul food restaurants. Also, the support of sustainable and organic farming practices will be central to Cornbread’s goal of serving high-quality soul food.

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We’ll be sourcing our meat, fish, and produce from over 120 small-production, family-owned farms throughout the New Jersey and Pennsylvania region and we excited to cultivate a true “farm to soul” experience. The first location will open in Maplewood, New Jersey.

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SB: Based on what you have learned so far, what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in any industry?

AB: I would tell them to be present and stay in the moment because you never know when you will need to draw on your various experiences. Don’t allow your circumstances turn you into a victim and keep a positive attitude. When I arrived in America, I was severely behind in academics, but I didn’t let that intimidate me. It seemed like there were endless possibilities in this country, so I pushed to be the best.

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There’s no substitute for hard work, but when you’re motivated and driven, nothing or no one can stop you. Additionally, don’t be deterred by “No.” I was turned down by seven banks before I was able to secure a loan for my first IHOP. However, those seven “No’s” prepared me for my “Yes”. By the time I got to the 8th bank I had addressed every possible issue, concern, or question so there was no way I could be denied.

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Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson