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When my family fled civil war in Liberia and became refugees in Sierra Leone, I was just eight years old. Even at that age, I would go over the border to Liberia with my cousin to bring food back to the refugee camp to sell. I was always an entrepreneur, and I learned in those moments that when you give a hungry person access to food, you're doing more than feeding their bodies. You're nourishing their spirits by nurturing their hope. I've never forgotten those lessons.

When I was 13, my family left Sierra Leone for the United States and we landed in Newark, New Jersey, and I saw again firsthand how communities with very little can always find ways to take care of each other.

This is a lesson that has driven so many of my business decisions as an entrepreneur, including my decision to serve free meals from my three IHOP restaurants located in Irvington, Newark and Paterson, New Jersey, in the wake of COVID-19. In a global pandemic, where being in good health and having enough to eat is critical to survival, no child should go hungry because of school closures. No adult should go hungry because of job loss. It's that simple. We’re serving take-out pancakes at breakfast and sandwiches at lunch to replace the meals that the children lost through school closures. My goal is to keep providing meals to these communities for as long as the schools are closed. I am also working with Councilwoman Jamilah Beasley in Irvington Township, home to my flagship IHOP, to deliver free meals to seniors.

I believe that as a Black woman business owner who operates in disadvantaged communities, I am an investor in these communities. My investment is more than the products I offer my customers or the people I hire — it's an investment in the health and well-being of these communities. When these neighborhoods thrive, my businesses thrive as well.

I don't believe everything should be simply about profit. At its core, business is an exchange of value, and I see these communities and the people who live in them as infinitely valuable.

In the early days of social distancing, we communicated to our employees that they would be paid at least throughout the first 2 weeks of the pandemic. As things have progressed, we have assessed our capabilities as a company. I am committed to paying our employees for as long as I can without jeopardizing the business' longevity. I am determined not to lay off any employees. I'll continue to look for resources to ensure that I can keep my commitment to them.

I'm truly inspired by my employees and all of their hard work during this crisis. They continue to show up. I am so proud to be a part of a team like this. Their excellence fuels my commitment to investing in them and in my community, even with the chaotic environment in which we find ourselves. Whether they need diapers for their children or a meal for their family, we'll be taking care of each other.

Despite my efforts and the efforts of like-minded entrepreneurs, disadvantaged communities will struggle to recover from the havoc caused by COVID-19. From lack of access to quality healthcare, to job loss, to the closure of small businesses, these communities, which are primarily Black and brown, will suffer. I'm concerned about my companies and their ability to withstand this period. Business is extremely slow and I can only imagine how people who have fewer resources are feeling at this moment. This is what drives me to do all I can for the people who share communities with my restaurants.

Making this decision was a no-brainer. Unprecedented times, call for unprecedented solutions.

If I can offer meals so that parents have one less thing to worry about, then that's what I will do.

There are moments in your life as an entrepreneur when you have to stop and remember your why. I got into the restaurant business because like that little girl bringing food over the border from Liberia, I believe that food is about more than nourishing bodies; it's about nourishing souls with hope and with love. Now is the time for all of us to band together, help one another and get through this crisis. I truly believe that if we all focus on helping each other, we will get through this faster and stronger than we were before.


Adenah Bayoh is the founder and CEO of Adenah Bayoh and Companies, which is the parent corporation that owns her unique restaurant collection, which includes IHOP franchises in Newark, Paterson, and Irvington, New Jersey, with a fourth location set to open soon in downtown Newark, New Jersey.