Food truck and hard work keep restaurant founder moving ahead
(Businesses started by minorities face many challenges. Brookings Institutionresearch has found that Black-owned businesses start with a third less capital than their white peers and have trouble raising private investments. Only one percent of Black business-owners get loans their founding year compared to seven percent of white business-owners -The pandemic has magnified the challenges facing minority business owners. Cora Broaddus looks at how three Lancaster restaurants owned by people of color are coping. – ED)
Jabron Taylor always wanted to be an entrepreneur and imagined opening a restaurant. He realized that dream in November of 2019 when Blazin’ J’s opened two locations and one food truck.
It was a short, but busy four months of selling delicious chicken sandwiches before the United States began to see the impact of Covid-19. Before the pandemic, Jabron struggled with finding time to be everywhere at once and figuring out what it takes to own a restaurant.
He also looked forward to the opportunities. He dreams of growing the business, envisions a franchise, and plans to give back to his community.
Blazin’ J’s was forced to close for about three weeks near the beginning of the pandemic. Some financial support from programs such as PPP (US Federal Paycheck Protection Program) gave Blazin’ J’s some additional aid, but hard work and faith have been the driving forces in the restaurant’s progress since re-opening.
Support has come from friends and family as well. His co-owner Heather Lewis, Jabron’s brother Robert Morehead, and Jabron’s father-in law Radames Vasquez have all been working hard to make Blazin’ J’s a popular place.
Jabron’s wife Nicole Taylor, who owns a boutique in Lancaster, has been helping Blazin’ J’s with their social media presence. The team’s work ethic has not been hindered by pandemic. Jabron says, “We know [now] we can endure a lot, we know we can get through a situation. It will be hard, but we will keep working and get through it.”
Jabron believes in supporting Lancaster businesses by buying from local produce vendors. Much of their vegetable produce is purchased from Lancaster Central Market, which is right around the corner from Blazin’ J's. “We always support whenever we can.”
Most small businesses have been feeling the effects of this pandemic. Jabron is decidedly positive. “Everybody thought it was going to be a sprint, but it has turned out to be a marathon,” he says.
The prices of meat have gone up. New rules and regulations are keeping everyone on their toes. But the food truck has been one of the integral parts of the restaurant, giving them access to more events and new customers. “The food truck has really helped us keep going.”
Blazin’ J’s is still new, but they are ready for the opportunities that the future will bring. They look forward to being able to grow the business and give back to their communities. The team continues to stay driven. Jabron says, “We’re working every day, we’re believing in ourselves, and we’re not quitting."
Food for better futures
Lancaster woman provides jobs, counselling for newcomers
Patience Buckwalter keeps busy providing meaningful work to refugee women in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
She started the Grape Leaf Cafe on James St. in 2018, followed by the Grape Leaf Empowerment Center in January 2019.
The idea for the café was inspired by a friend of Patience who was looking for a worthwhile way to contribute to society. Patience realized she could combine her friend’s love for cooking with her career in social work. "Food was her love language, food is many cultures’ love language.”
At first, Patience and the refugee women used the kitchen at Ten Thousand Villages before deciding to get their own kitchen space, which became the James Street Cafe. Since the refugee women, who do the cooking, and Patience all live in Lancaster, using the cafe on James street to prep and store food provided more flexibility for everyone. Since opening they have provided dishes from several places including Syria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Congo.
The Grape Leaf Empowerment Center found its home on James St. as well, in the lower level of James Street Mennonite Church. It became a gathering space, a place providing community resources and placement management.
The pandemic hit during the winter, when the Café closes for the off-season, so the effects were not immediate. But as the situation progressed, the uncertainty of how long this would all last became concerning.
Patience began figuring out how to adjust. In July she decided they needed to go mobile with the cafe and the Empowerment Center, bringing the food and support to local neighborhoods. Wednesdays during the summer, they had their neighborhood pop-ups and catered for other events through the YWCA and small organizations.
During the pandemic, there have not been as many new arrivals of refugees. Right now, Grape Leaf Empowerment Center is more focused on helping the families who are currently in Lancaster. According to Patience, the pandemic has been extremely stressful for the refugees because of the language barriers, cultural barriers, and the anxiety of not wanting to get sick.
Patience has been helping families understand the current events and regulations with the help of translators. She has also been making sure the families have health insurance and helping them apply if they don’t.
While the weather is warm, travelling by car and setting up a tent in a neighborhood has been sufficient to provide social services, but Patience worries about the colder months. Her goal is to purchase a mobile unit to use as an office space so she can continue to help refugee families when winter comes. She is uncertain of where the money will come from.
Patience continues to use her talent for networking, her creativity and her flexibility to provide refugees in Lancaster with the resources they need during the pandemic. Word of mouth and Facebook have been her main forms of advertising. Patience plans to keep bringing assistance and meaningful work to refugee women and families in Lancaster.