Adenah Bayoh and Elzadie Smith are on a mission to bring soul food to the masses at their restaurant Cornbread.
Bayoh escaped the civil war in Liberia when she was 13 to move to the U.S. She always had an entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in her new home. She eventually grew to own six restaurants, four of which were IHOP franchises. At the time, she says she was the youngest franchisee at 25 years old.
Smith grew up in Georgia, where she was raised on soul food, albeit mostly unhealthy. Her grandmother owned a restaurant and taught Smith everything she knew. With a background in the culinary arts, Smith decided to develop her own soul food recipes.
The brains and the creativity joined together to make fast-casual Cornbread, a Brooklyn-based soul food restaurant with the look of Chipotle.
The three-location brand has units in New York and New Jersey, but Bayoh and Smith are living out their dream as the brand has just started to franchise.
“I’m looking for dynamic people who want to make a change in the culture. How do we push Black culture, Black food in a time that is demonizing it?” said Bayoh.
Bayoh also believes franchising is the right move for this emerging regional brand. With 16 years in franchise operations under her belt, Bayoh knows she has the knowledge to make Cornbread a national success.
“I believe in franchising. I believe that it can help you grow a business because you are in a partnership with someone who’s just as invested in growing the brand as you are,” she said.
Cornbread wants to bring more people of color and women into franchising through its model. Bayoh wants to mentor younger folks who are entering the franchise space and help them grow both with Cornbread and personally, especially after a struggle she went through to gain access to capital. She hopes to train others in this mission so they can go on to build up the portfolio of Black owners in the restaurant space.
“I’ve always been someone who wants to grow and bring others with me,” she said. “I believe in this model of community. I believe in this model of helping people see their best potential… When you see someone who looks like you doing something, that’s powerful.”
It’s not just community for franchisees that Cornbread is about. The restaurant is a gathering place where everyone is welcome. People from all walks of life are invited to apply and work at Cornbread, including the formerly incarcerated.
“You know, we spend a lot of time on intentionality,” Bayoh said. “I was intentional to blackout stigmatism.”
That’s stigmatism about soul food, too. Knowing that soul food is inherently unhealthy, Smith and Bayoh went about it in a different way — using minimal ingredients and doing things like baking Mac and Cheese.
“We wanted to create a place that people can come to and eat their favorite food and feel light about it,” Bayoh said.
The menu has collard greens — made with just three ingredients — baked mac and cheese, and baked and fried chicken, all served at a restaurant that resembles Chipotle, rather than a neighborhood restaurant.