When Adenah Bayoh decided to start the restaurant Cornbread Farm to Soul, she had a vision in mind to bring soul food to the masses in a fast-casual environment.
Bayoh is from New Jersey by way of West Africa and felt like she had the drive to achieve that vision.
“I think I grew up in a neighborhood that allowed me to be myself — authentically myself,” she said. “It's no wonder that I'm sitting here today, CEO of a fast-casual brand, that's looking to take off nationally because I fundamentally do believe that I grew up in a space that allowed me to think big. I wasn't put in a box.”
That’s the spirit she infuses into her management staff and the team at large. Bayoh is passionate about bringing women and minorities up in the ranks of the restaurant industry. As a Black female CEO herself, she knows that it’s possible if she works toward that goal.
So far, Cornbread is on track to fulfill Bayoh’s mission, with three locations open today. As a franchisee herself — Bayoh owns four IHOP locations — Bayoh is thinking about franchising Cornbread, believing it will be a way for minorities to get in the business as the brand seeks to grow — big time.
“The restaurant is a conduit to creating jobs, to empowering women,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to one day franchise Cornbread and to carve out a space for women in this space that we're so ingrained.”
The women who work for Bayoh are (hopefully) going to be moving up in the ranks. Bayoh doesn’t want them to only be general managers; she wants these women to rise up and be on the corporate team or own a franchise eventually.
Even if she can only make a little dent in how the restaurant industry treats women, she’s going to do it.
“Women are oftentimes the majority of restaurant workers,” she said. “We make it our mission to make this more equitable for women. If we can make a dent in this, we will absolutely do that.”
However, it wasn’t the only thing in the restaurant world that was an uphill battle. She also wanted to raise up her culture and put it on the map.
Cornbread sprang out of a lack of soul food not just in New York and New Jersey but also across the country. Bayoh aims to build it into a national chain, filling that hole in the market. But her reasoning for opening the store in the first place has a larger meaning.
“We feel like we're doing this for the culture,” she said. “No one is cooking soul food like they used to. And no one is cooking soul food in an authentic way.”
As for why she brought the brand from New Jersey to Brooklyn, Bayoh said it just felt right.
“When I think of Brooklyn, I think of people like Jay-Z, Biggie (Smalls, aka Notorious B.I.G.),” she said. “It’s a place that has a real unique place in our culture, especially hip-hop and Black culture.”
It’s also the place she felt, for her third location, would be a factor in her growth.
“Brooklyn is a place where you can really … I don't want to say conquer the world, but if that's what you wanted to do, you could do that in Brooklyn,” she said.
The people who work at Cornbread are also from the community where the store is located, which is important to Bayoh.
“When I sit back and I think about what kind of legacy, what kind of company I want to run, I want to run a company that's heavily focused on employees,” she said. “So when we do go into communities, we're embedded in hiring for those communities.”
And there is a corporate structure to back that legacy up. In preparation for building the brand, Bayoh has hired an entire corporate team.
Within the chain’s first two years, it had already hired a chief financial officer. Cornbread also has an HR person on staff, as well as legal counsel. These pieces are key to the brand’s growth as Bayoh looks ahead rather than behind.
“I'm building a team that's going to help me get to $50 million in revenue in five years,” she said.
Contact Holly Petre at [email protected]
Hear from Adenah Bayoh and other Hot Concept founders at CREATE: The Experience, Oct. 1-3 in Palm Springs, in a panel sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company.