By Charles Hallman
The beginning years are often described as the hardest for new business owners. Black-owned businesses are no exception. But the MSR found two new businesses that are off to a promising start.
Junita Cathey and Sammy McDowell both launched their respective businesses a year ago. Cathey’s Favorable Treats frozen cookie dough is in two Whole Foods stores and the University of Minnesota student union. Sammy’s Avenue Eatery,
operated by McDowell, is located near the heart of the city’s North Side on the corner of West Broadway and Emerson Avenues.
“This always has been my life dream, to own my own restaurant, to have my own creative juices flowing, whatever I feel is good for me,” notes McDowell. “I’ve managed restaurants for probably 20 years, working for other people and doing it
the way they wanted, systematic, etc., etc. I was successful with that… I was making it for everyone else, so I figured why not do it for myself. I wanted to venture out and do something on my own. I quit my job and started me a catering service.”
Junita Cathey started out several years ago baking cookies for baby showers and other special events, then for people to use as gifts, she says. “People wanted to know how they could buy my cookies when they are not buying gifts. It got me thinking…to try my hand in making what I like.”
Cathey operates an online business. “Because I have two small children and my husband is traveling quite a bit, I needed to have something where I could still pursue my passion but maintain a strong presence with my children,” she says. “It was very deliberate for me” not to have a building location, but rather to produce her product in an “incubator kitchen” in St. Paul.
“Not only has it allowed me to grow my business at a comfortable rate, not having to take on a lot of debt or overhead,” she continues, “but it also builds a supportive community where we are learning from each other [and] we can pool our resources and buy in bulk so it decreases the cost.”
Last summer she sought out Whole Foods to carry her cookie dough, although Cathey had received numerous rejections at other stores. “I think the biggest discouragement is here’s this little Brown girl walking around here with cookies, getting people to take me seriously.”
She admitted she was hesitant to approach the store people before submitting her proposal last August. “Then I got to meet with the buyers,” she explains. The Whole Foods folk weren’t convinced at first, but Cathey says she was persistent nonetheless.
“I have a great product and an awesome work ethic. I work hard. I will deliver on time. This is a new brand, but I think you should really take a chance,” she told them.
“They didn’t have anything like my product in the frozen foods section, so they were a little intrigued,” Cathey recalls.
Her product is now in two Whole Foods stores: downtown Minneapolis and Maple Grove. “I’m working on expanding into the other ones as well.”
“Food service is a lot different than a lot of other businesses,” explains McDowell. “You have to be on top of things as the owner or as the person in charge. You have to be in tune to what is going on in here.
“We had some outstanding lunch rushes and some great morning business, “continues McDowell, who adds that “sales are up at this space — we actually are doing really well compared to any former owner of the space.”
McDowell admits that as a store owner he had to learn one important thing quickly: “I didn’t know I had to pay [state] sales taxes so often. That was a big eye opener. I thought I’d pay taxes once a year, like everyone else. I think I got a whole education learning new stuff I didn’t know, because I never had a business license before.”
“This community really needs a pick-me-up,” says McDowell. “I wanted to be a part of what’s going on — there are a lot of positive things going on in North Minneapolis. I just wanted to be a part of making it better.
“It’s actually refreshing to know that we can have someplace nice to go, have a meeting… We need those nice places in our community, too.”
Next: Why Blacks often don’t support local Black-owned businesses or events.