Community shapes every facet of our heart and soul, whether we realize it or not. It’s an omnipresent force that shapes your past, walks you through your present, and alters bits and pieces of your future in ways you never expect. After I escaped the civil war in Liberia at age 13, I dreamt of becoming a successful entrepreneur in my new home – the United States. The community I found here, specifically in Newark, is the reason I am here today. A person is nothing without the love and support of their community, so I made it my mission to create a business model that gives back to the very people who keep its heart beating. Whether someone is at a Cornbread enjoying some classic soul food or at a Brick City Vegan grazing on a plant-based biscuit sandwich, my primary business goal has always been to deliver more than meals. I’m trying to bring people good vibes and consistent support so that they can spread it further throughout their community—but ultimately, community involvement and support starts with the business owner. Community is a cornerstone of my identity as an entrepreneur, so it must be a pillar of my business model and values as well.
So here are some ways I have given back, because loyalty and trust has only made my business prosper:
Why it’s worth giving back
There is no way I’d be standing here today without the support of the community I grew up in. It was my teachers who invested in me as a student with learning disabilities and my neighbors when I was poor so that I could pursue my passion. Giveback efforts might sound like a lot of extra work while owning a restaurant, especially in the beginning phases of your business, but trust and loyalty do not have a price. Communities are full of people who want to give back but don’t have the same resources that you have as a business owner. Still, they support local businesses anyway because they believe that these businesses—you— can access platforms that serve the community on a bigger scale.
When Cornbread invests in and takes care of members of the community, those community members, in turn, will support our business just as passionately because they trust we will be there in their time of need. When I was developing restaurants at the height of the pandemic, I saw, in tenfold, my community reach out and call to see if my team and I were okay and support us in any way they could. My local municipality, especially, made an effort to make sure that whenever they needed catering or food – they ordered it directly from us at Cornbread.
Don’t say no
It is important to invest in the same people who took a chance on you as a budding business owner. Cornbread is asked to show up and help out a lot because of our rapport with the communities we serve, but I never say no because generosity should not have a limit. If you have the means to help, you should never be short with your love. Treat others as you would want to be treated is the motto because your devotion to the people will only deepen their devotion to you.
The great thing about having multiple locations is that we have been able to organize initiatives that serve multiple communities. Every Cornbread location has a part to play in our giveaways and giveback programs, like our turkey giveaways. During the holiday season, my team and I give away turkeys to local families at all of our current locations. This past holiday season, we dropped off 150 meals to the YMCA in Newark to families for Thanksgiving and donated food for up to 150 people at the Owens Center in Brooklyn. At Christmas time, we provided families at the YMCA in Newark with 80 meals. We are always excited to organize events to give back to our local communities.
Aside from providing financial security to members of the community, hiring someone who values and appreciates the area will foster a deep understanding of the local market and culture, no matter the size and scope of the city.
When your community thrives, your staff thrives. Local hires are passionate about the community and want the business to succeed as much as you do. They can identify your target customer as well as understand the competitive landscape in the area.
Take part in local schools and organizations
Today’s local kids and students are tomorrow’s community leaders. I was once a 13-year-old immigrant chasing the dream of entrepreneurship. Leading by example not only sets a community-oriented tone for your business, but welcomes fresh ideas, new perspectives, and uplifts promising individuals with dreams to make your business better. My community invested in me to get here, so I will invest in them to go as far as I did, and further.
By being active in a community, you are manifesting the kind of environment in which you want to be a business leader. Showing up for your customers in their element and being a familiar face will also boost brand recognition and make them want to visit you in your element. Forming lasting community ties and relationships cannot exist without a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect.
But your wings only stretch so far as a franchise
I lead by example as a local business in my community, but also as a franchisor looking for prospective franchisees who want to make a positive difference in their own communities. Cornbread started as me and my co-founder Elzadie Smith’s vision. When we share our vision and values, we encourage all of our franchisees to be just as generous when they adopt our model, in order to generate positive results and make meaningful connections with the communities they serve.
Leading with our heart has steered Cornbread in all the right directions. Our goal is to place the brand in the hands of great, trustworthy franchisees who want to see a kind world like I do. Our community is family and so are our franchisees. We take care of each other here.
Adenah Bayoh is the founder and CEO of Adenah Bayoh and Companies, which is the parent corporation that owns IHOP franchises in Newark, Paterson, and Irvington, New Jersey and a real estate development portfolio with over $250 million dollars in urban redevelopment projects. Because of the success of her flagship IHOP in Irvington, she is the second largest employer in the Township. Recently, Adenah launched Cornbread, her signature line of fast casual, farm-to-table, soul food restaurants.