How These Restaurant Owners Are Teaching Their Children About Generational Wealth
It's not unusual to spot children working at their parents' businesses. There's the teenager tasked to groom the beautiful mane of an Afghan Hound at his mom's veterinary clinic. Or the siblings working the register at their family's clothing boutique. There's also the little girl folding napkins and filling water glasses at her dad's cozy Jamaican restaurant.
Ninety-nine percent of minority-owned businesses, or those with Black, Native American, Hispanic, and AAPI owners, are small businesses, according to the latest figures by the Small Business Administration. And in 2020, there were more new Black-owned businesses than at any time during the past 25 years, says the Kauffman Foundation's annual study, with 380 out of every 100,000 Black adults becoming new entrepreneurs during the pandemic. That's up from 240 in the two prior years.
Many of these businesses are family owned and operated, with parents hoping to build generational wealth for their children and beyond. One area of interest steadily gaining ground for Black entrepreneurs is hospitality, as more restaurants and other businesses concerning food and beverages emerge. That's because there's a high demand for Black-owned products and services. Here are some of the lessons these families hope to pass down and the entrepreneurial legacies they hope to leave their children.
Chicagoan D.C. Crenshaw caught the entrepreneurial bug after graduating from college.He went into business for himself full time hosting chic dinner parties for local young professionals in 2009. With wife Alayna and two sons, Tru, 13, and Cruz, 9, Crenshaw launched Little Diner's Crew, a globally focused dining club for kids between the ages 4-12, in 2016.
As dedicated gourmands, Alayna and D.C. made it a point early on to introduce their sons to cuisines spanning the globe. At restaurants, says D.C., other parents watched in awe as their sons behaved like little gentlemen and ate sushi like pros.
When he started getting an influx of inquiries about his family's dining adventures, Little Diner's Crew was born to introduce more youngsters to diverse culinary opportunities. Capacity is up to 20 children and their parents, with events at a variety of restaurants throughout Chicago. They range from a luxury steakhouse to an authentic West African eatery to an Argentinian restaurant.
Tru and Cruz are involved in almost every step of the process, says D.C., adding that it's a great learning experience for them. "They're learning how to price things, what a profit and loss is, and how to manage people and money," he says. The entire family also checks out each restaurant before the events to select menu items, with Tru and Cruz picking the dishes for the kids' menu.
Now that his sons are more comfortable in their roles with the business, D.C. has expanded operations to Aspen, Colorado, as well as launched Teen's Diner Crew and Cru Food, an online ordering platform. He calls it "the GrubHub for families" with a curated list of chef-driven restaurants with kid-tested dishes and family meal packages. His sons are excited about these new ventures as well, and while D.C. encourages them to consider entrepreneurism as a career route, there is no pressure to stay with the family business.
"I tell them to do something they're passionate about, then figure out how they can make money from it," he says, adding some advice for other parents. "I would say that if you want to start a family business, get buy-in from all involved because kids come up with some really good ideas that we don't think about."
She may only be 2 years old now, but Bradley Edwards is certain to have some fresh ideas for her parents' business when she gets older. EatOkra launched in 2016 by Brooklyn-based husband-and-wife team Anthony and Janique Edwards, who wanted to connect diners with Black-owned restaurants through their innovative app. Since its inception, more than 330,000 people regularly use their product. And over the summer, they expanded the business with a virtual marketplace featuring Black-owned provisions, including artisanal sauces, seasonings, teas, and gourmet items. Thus far, they have 24 vendors with more than 125 products.
Anthony's father once owned a popular barbecue restaurant, and that dedication to his craft inspired him to become an entrepreneur. He hopes to pass on that enthusiasm to Bradley.
"I'm a workhorse, so I just want her to watch us and take in as much as she can," he says. Of the many lessons he hopes to teach his daughter, Anthony says she needs to learn that "nothing is an overnight success. In fact, it took them 5 years to make a profit with EatOkra.
While Anthony's wife and co-owner Janique believes it's important to work hard to set a good example for their daughter, she offers sage advice for Black parents looking to start a new business. She says they should set aside pride and ask for help from family and friends.
Janique advises Black parents to lean on their people where they can. "I think we [as Black people] get this mindset that we can do it all on our own," she says. "Your tribe is there for a reason. We've always had our tribe with us to raise our children, to support us, and to lean on when things are hard. It's not only beneficial for you, but for your child as well."
For Ryan and Cassandra Wilson of The Gathering Spot, part of that tribe includes his parents, longtime entrepreneurs whose company started with two people in their basement to a current employee roster of several thousand employees. He says that he had no intentions of following in his parents' footprints as an entrepreneur; he wanted to be an attorney. But the traumatizing death of Trayvon Martin changed his fate.
That's when he and classmate TK Petersen decided to build The Gathering Spot, a private club where like-minded people could have conversations about Martin as well as other important issues affecting Black communities. The first location opened in 2016 in Atlanta, with a second one debuting last spring in Washington, D.C. A third location is set for Los Angeles in early 2022. Each club comes equipped with a full restaurant, bar, co-working space, and event space. There are 5,000 members throughout the network, with plans for continued growth.
Wilson's father has been instrumental to The Gathering Spot's success, mostly because he served as a positive role model for his son. He hopes to be the same for his daughter Camry, who is now 18 months.
"It's really hard to become something you've never seen before," says Ryan. "A big emphasis for me is to expose my daughter to what I do as well as to the people who are within [The Gathering Spot] community that she could learn from. Whatever she wants to go off and accomplish is doable."
One entrepreneur who decided to go into the family business is Allison Collins, president of Select Brands LLC, which is behind Mumbo BBQ Sauce. Originated in Chicago by her father Argia B. Collins, the specialty product has been around for more than 70 years. Allison, who started working at her father's manufacturing company when she was a teenager, has aggressively kept its legacy alive by introducing the brand to new generations with targeted social media campaigns.
"I am connecting with new consumers," she says. "We are educating people on how to use the sauce because it's not just a traditional BBQ sauce, it's all-purpose and can be used to kick up your spaghetti or as a flavor enhancer for salads or meatballs… We want our brand to be the gold standard."
Yet another legacy brand, Sylvia's, has been passed on to the next generations. While the legendary Harlem soul food restaurant is now run by Sylvia Woods' youngest son, Kenneth, the communications department is handled by her granddaughter, Tren'ness Woods-Black. Together, they keep the restaurant's legacy alive, plus sales of signature hot sauces, seasonings, fried chicken mix, and more.
Woods-Black has also extended her family's rich heritage by joining the board of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, executive producing virtual culinary show "Cornbread & Conversations," and collaborating with Thrillist for a nationwide touring block party series to celebrate Sylvia's 60th anniversary in 2022. She credits her industry success to her grandmother's wisdom.
"She instilled the importance of creating generational wealth through real estate and identifying the right talents for the right positions," says Woods-Black, who started working at the restaurant when she was 13. "Her story is the blueprint for generational wealth as our family businesses can be traced back to our farmland that has been around for five generations and continues to grow."
Now, that's one heck of a legacy indeed.