An International House of Pancakes is not an international home of pancakes, according to some. So when Adenah Bayoh became the youngest Black woman to franchise an IHOP in 2007, she introduced a side menu where New Jersey locals could order catfish, whiting and collard greens next to their Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity pancakes.
“IHOP was pissed as hell when it found out this was happening,” said Bayoh. “They [were] mad as hell. And I remember getting this phone call and the letter from that attorney was a cease-and-desist letter.
“What saved me during that time was 10% of my gross revenue was the soul food menu. They had a problem on their hands—they couldn’t say no to this thing that was growing like wildfire. So they allowed me to do a modified version of it.”
Bayoh’s spot soon became the fastest growing IHOP in the northeast. She followed up by opening three other locations in the “Garden State” including a pair in Newark. Still, Bayoh wanted a concept she could call her own. In 2017, she started the restaurant Cornbread Farm to Soul with business partner Zadie B. Smith. This past summer, a location opened up in Crown Heights.
“We were in Brooklyn when it was so hard to do business in Brooklyn,” she said. “We built that project and we opened our doors this May. And the support from the community has been mindblowing. I always tell my customers, ‘one thing about Brooklyn, y’all support your own.’”
Between meals, Bayoh also develops affordable housing and serves on the Small Business and Agricultural Advisory Council for the New York Fed. She’s currently working on a greenlight for her Southside View project in Newark. If approved, the proposed 40-unit complex would be the first woman or Black-led property to receive a federal 9% Low-Income Housing Tax Credit in New Jersey. Bayoh, who lived in public housing, says the property would meet community needs, boasting playgrounds, community gardens and in-apartment laundry. And break another glass ceiling for women in development.
But she wasn’t always running a NY-NJ restaurant/real-estate empire or getting calls from the federal reserve. Bayoh started her first business at around age 8 selling vegetables to fellow refugees in Sierra Leone after her family was displaced during the Liberian Civil War. She saw the lack of familiar foods in the camp. So Bayoh and her older cousin would trek to their home village to bring back those veggies.
The mindset carried over when she arrived in the United States at age 13. Bayoh soon started a babysitting business for children around the neighborhood. Then, she offered laundry services—come back in three hours and clients would find their clothes washed and folded. She also says she worked at McDonalds as a teen. In college, Bayoh balanced a trio of jobs, working at a bank and as a resident assistant, along with braiding hair in her dorm room.
But beyond hard work, Bayoh credits the long line of women who paved the way for her, starting with her grandmother, who grew up in a remote, rural village.
“She was a really amazing, badass woman that raised me since I was an infant all the way to adulthood,” said Bayoh. “She had a real estate holding company, and she had restaurants, she had a farm. And she was an advocate of other people and other women. She believed in community.”
Then, there were her teachers who put in extra hours to acclimate her to American life and pushed her to attend college. And then there’s Nicole, an IHOP employee who connected Bayoh to financial backing for her first franchise after she was rejected in her first seven attempts to secure funding. So she’s paying it forward, for other women.
“When you’re at the table, make room at the table, right?” said Bayoh. “Most of the managers in my organization today, well over 60 or 80% of them are women. Women that I’m teaching to eventually be their own boss. Go open your own restaurant, start your own franchise, right? Your mother did not [birth] you to work for me for the rest of your life. Go start your own business, do something meaningful, right?”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1