Black History Month is a wrap, but the influence that black-owned businesses have on our communities carries on throughout the year. We checked in with successful black-owned businesses across the country—from juices and gourmet goods in Brooklyn to lashes and beauty in Charleston—and compiled some of our favorite business insights, advice, and stories.
Who they are
Cane Washington Brother and sister Chef Peter Prime and Jeanine Prime pay tribute to their native Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago with their take on the island’s most popular street foods.
YoFresh Yogurt Cafe Evanston, Ill. Husband-and-wife team Larry and Jean—also retired educators and social service providers turned business owners—run a frozen yogurt shop in the Chicago suburbs.
Slim & Husky’s Nashville, Tenn. Derrick, Clint, and Emanuel—three Nashville natives who founded a hip hop-inspired, fast casual, gourmet pizza joint (with five locations)—serve up artisan pizzas and unique cinnamon rolls made with locally sourced ingredients.
iwi fresh Garden Day Spa Atlanta Skin care chef Yolanda Owens brings a fresh farm-to-skin spa to Atlanta with many of her ingredients picked straight from the farm and services ranging from veggie facials to hot shaves.
Carolina Eye Candy Charleston, S.C. Elizabeth Jennings owns her own skincare line and specializes in natural eyelash extensions, microblading services, and more across three locations.
Emoji’s Grilled Cheese Austin, Texas Grilled cheese aficionado Hope Green brings her talents to the food truck world with both classic and innovative twists on this signature sandwich.
BKLYN Blend Brooklyn, N.Y. Father-and-son duo Ralph and Keishon Warren, childhood best friend Ali Coutard, and chef extraordinaire Ed Cooper serve healthy, energizing, and nutritious food and drinks with dishes named after familiar locations from all ends of Brooklyn.
Ethereal Nails & Express Spa Scottsdale, Ariz. Sister duo Maria and Elizabeth Oloyede, who have passionate backgrounds in medicine and science, bring a strong approach to the spa game with the utmost attention to disinfection and sterilization.
Easley Boxing Austin, Texas Jodie Easley and Frederika McClary, a husband-and-wife team of boxing fanatics, pair together to bring a true boxing experience to their community.
Faith’s Naturals Jamaica Plain, Mass. Founder Faithlyn Scarlett’s all-natural and organic skin and hair care company was born out of the desire to help all skin conditions, from her own scars to her son’s eczema.
Why did you decide to open your own business?
Slim & Husky’s We wanted to help provide jobs for our community as well as a healthy alternative for pizza within areas labeled as food deserts.
iwi fresh Garden Day Spa I wanted to carry on my grandmother’s legacy of healing through home remedies. Your skin is the largest organ of your body: You need to love it, you need to take care of it.
YoFresh Yogurt Cafe We wanted to create a space that would generate a sense of joy and well-being in those entering and, in turn, encourage positive communal interaction. Hence the “Kindness Korner” near the front of the store and our frequent hosting of meetings of groups committed to constructive social engagement.
Emoji’s Grilled Cheese I started my food truck when my daughter was 9, and she said the best thing I “cooked” was grilled cheese. I saw grilled cheese as a blank canvas for artwork, so I was always trying to impress my daughter with how fancy I could make grilled cheeses. I make what I love and hope it attracts other people who love what I love… and it has.
Easley Boxing At our gym we are boxing fanatics first and foremost, so the integrity of the sport is paramount to us. Boxing is one of the best workouts on the planet, so a lot of gyms and trainers incorporate the great physical benefits into their workouts. We on the other hand are committed to making sure that everyone that steps through our doors is learning the art and science of boxing while also getting in great shape!
Faith’s Naturals The decision to go from selling my body butters to friends, family, and co-workers wasn’t entirely my own; there was a force greater than me pushing me to move forward, call it God, ancestors, intuition, or the universe. I recall one day when the nudge first came to make what I do into an actual business, I promised myself that on the upcoming Thursday I would gather all the ingredients I needed to make my products, and I would take some into a local shop and see if they would be interested in carrying some of them. When that day came, I was reluctant and nervous but there was that push—that guidance—and I followed through and was able to get my products into Essential Body Herbs. There is a great quote by Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist that says when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
How did you decide what to name your business?
Slim & Husky’s (Clint) Slim & Husky’s gets its name from a joke between three best friends. When Derrick and I were kids, our mothers would have to shop for clothing for us in the husky kids section. Emanuel, who is a skinny guy, always got a kick out of that. Therefore we named the business Slim & Husky’s. One skinny guy and two husky guys.
BKLYN Blend Our location opening up in Brooklyn and providing healthy food to our community was always the goal, so having Brooklyn in the name was essential. All of BKLYN Blend’s owners spent most of their time in Brooklyn, so when we thought out what makes this place so great we figured it was the ‘blend’ of family, culture, diversity, growth, and opportunity!
iwi fresh Garden Day Spa Iwi stands for “it is what it is,” because whatever the product is, that’s what it is. If it’s carrots, it’s carrots. If it’s squash, it’s squash. It’s iwi fresh.
What’s your favorite part of owning your own business?
BKLYN Blend Being a local business in a neighborhood like Bed-Stuy [Bedford–Stuyvesant] in Brooklyn brings a great sense of community and gathering over time. We have such an amazing core of customers that come by and we get to share all parts of their daily lives, great accomplishments and daily routine! It’s such a satisfying feeling talking with our customers in the morning when they come and get a fresh juice or a quick bite to eat and they are nervous about a job interview or a big test, and they come in two days later and we get to hear about their new job or how they breezed through their work!
Cane The coolest part of running this business is making our guests happy—it never gets old seeing customers doing a happy dance as they enjoy great food, music, and the good vibes we try to create in the space. Trinidadians are very down-to-earth people, with little patience for pretentiousness and putting on airs. It’s really gratifying to see folks let their guards down and even share a fun moment with a nearby guest. It’s very cool to see people from all walks of life—and different backgrounds—engage with each other this way. It’s the spirit of what we in Trinidad call limin’—sharing a good time and connecting with each other.
Ethereal Nails & Express Spa My favorite part about owning my own business is getting to see my sister every single day. It is such a blessing and honor to be partners with my best friend and somebody who I can sincerely trust.
Emoji’s Grilled Cheese I love all the different types of people I meet on a daily basis. I love hearing their stories and how grilled cheese touched their lives growing up. I love sharing war stories and jokes with them while they wait for their order. The best thing is sneaking a peek of them taking their FIRST BITE.
Faith’s Naturals My favorite part of owning my own business is that I have total creative control. I’m able to provide relief and a different option for my community. So often someone will say it’s so amazing walking into your shop; I already feel relaxed and better just by being in here. Or your products have literally changed my life for the better. Those moments give me so much joy and fill my heart with so much love, knowing that I am impacting someone for the better.
What’s the most challenging part of owning your own business?
Ethereal Nails & Express Spa The most challenging thing about owning our business is learning how to balance work and family. It is a constant challenge. I often wonder if all big companies once had such a difficult challenge. We find ourselves working too much and not taking enough time for ourselves.
Carolina Eye Candy It takes a lot out of me to be “on” during the working hours. So I would say that one of the most challenging is dealing with people, LOL! So many different traits and personalities, you never know what you’re gonna get. I haven’t had too many bad experiences, but having to say no can be tough. I will say that for many these days, entrepreneurship is the sexy thing “to do,” and many talk about being a boss. It’s not that glamorous.
Easley Boxing When it is your dream, you pour a lot into it… balance is hard.
Faith’s Naturals The most difficult part of owning a business like mine, where everything is handmade, is letting everyone fully understand that it takes time and patience. For instance, someone will order something, and two days later, they are already expecting the products to be on their way. But usually our customers are very understanding once they fully get how the process works.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give a business owner who is just starting out?
Emoji’s Grilled Cheese Research, research, research! Talk to owners already doing what you want to do; volunteer or take a job in their organization before investing your life savings in starting a business. Serve as an employee in that same type of business for at least a month or two—you will barely scratch the surface in a day or two. This investment of time could save you millions in wasted capital and bad decisions. In this industry, work in a food truck for MORE THAN a month before you buy one. How good your food is doesn’t really matter if you’re not able to actually manage a business housed in a mobile kitchen.
Easley Boxing Love what you are doing. If you really love it and your customers can feel that, the rest will fall into place.
Faith’s Naturals My number one piece of advice for anyone looking to start a business: First, you must love what you do. You must be head over heels, fully passionate about it, because in those moments when things get tough, if the love for it isn’t there, you won’t have the stamina to see it all the way through. Make sure you believe in yourself—you have to believe in yourself before anyone else really will.
How do you get your business to stand out in a crowded marketplace?
Ethereal Nails & Express Spa Go the extra mile to care about your clients. See them as people, and not just how much money you can make.
Emoji’s Grilled Cheese Having a specialized niche really helps. We spend a lot of time reimagining what grilled cheese can become, and we are still surprising fans and newbies after eight years! Additionally, one of our earliest partnerships was with local breweries. That’s how we got our food out to a captive audience. Then brewery customers started asking us to bring our truck to their offices for lunch—marriage made in heaven!
Carolina Eye Candy I know you hear all the time, “Know your competition,” but I just don’t focus on what others are doing. I believe that there is enough business to go around, and I believe in focusing on my business and what is best for the beauty guests who choose to invest their time and trust with us. Although I was one of the first people in the state of South Carolina to specialize in eyelash extensions—and the first black woman to do so as well—I see it as a blessing. I’m always investing my time and money in educating myself for the betterment of my business.
Easley Boxing Our biggest asset has been word of mouth. We stand out because our customers love their experience.
Faith’s Naturals I believe in what I do strongly, and I believe the people who need me will find me. In a saturated market, you need a different mindset. The majority of my clients have amazing results and refer their friends and family. Faith’s Naturals is really built on hard work and love from communities near and far.
What are some of the ways you get involved in the community?
Emoji’s Grilled Cheese Right now my heart is in the training I do with homeless teens and youth aging out of the foster care system. Many of them work in our trucks to help get a jumpstart on their resume and work experience. A few have gone on to start their own businesses.
YoFresh YogurtCafe We were excited to inaugurate a business whose proceeds could be directed to supporting programs for youth education and development, especially for those who are socio-economically challenged.
How did you achieve the success in your first location that allowed you to expand?
Carolina Eye Candy Expanding a business is never easy. There are bumps and challenges that you can expect. I’ve been doing this since 2008, and as the years went by and I was reaching the goals I set for myself, the expansion from one location to two was honestly a spirit-led move. I live my life by faith in God, and being guided by my faith has helped me to make the right decisions.
I analyzed the success and growth of my first location, which began in Charleston in 2008 and moved to Summerville in 2009. After the death of my grandmother in 2013 on Valentine’s Day, my prayers and walking by faith led me back to Charleston to open my second location in November 2013. My grandmother, like me, is from Charleston, and I wanted to do this as a memorial. She was a hard-working woman, never drove a day in her life. She worked in a cafeteria in a middle school in downtown Charleston. She walked to work, and she was a homeowner in downtown Charleston. Today that may not seem like a big deal. But as a black woman who was separated from her husband (who did not provide any support for her or their children) that meant a lot. She never talked about it, but I saw it. I believe I have that same spirit—just as she did something many thought she couldn’t accomplish, so could I. It was scary, but I stuck in there with it and over the years succeeded. Not because of the revenue, but because I did something many didn’t think I could do or should do. From there, as opportunities presented themselves to me, I continued to expand. For me, business is not a cake walk, but it is a faith walk.
Any celebrity visitors or unique experiences to share?
Emoji’s Grilled Cheese My coolest moment yet was feeding Carla Hall of “The Chew.” Not only is she a phenomenal chef, but the hair envy is real!
Easley Boxing At one point we had Farrah Abraham training for a celebrity boxing match at our gym. She was great about giving us shoutouts on social media.
Carolina Eye Candy The business has serviced people from “Dancing with the Stars,” a number of Bravo reality shows, and a few local news anchors. I don’t name drop because they are regular people just like we are, but we treat all of our beauty guests the same, with gratitude and respect. I share a number of stories in my book, The Eyes Have It: The Story of Lashes, Looks and My Love for Them.
Want to contribute your own business tips? Interested in another topic?