With IHOP pancakes and deep community connections, Adenah Bayoh stands up to COVID-19
By Kenna Caprio
June 9, 2020 — When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, Adenah Bayoh guaranteed pay for as long as she could to her restaurant employees. She paid them out of her own pocket for a month, and is still supporting her IHOP waitresses and servers, who rely on tips to make a living.
“When this is all said and done, the Black and brown communities are going to be disproportionately disenfranchised. Not only are my employees now essential workers and frontline workers, but they are also the least likely to have the ability to work from home. All of my staff has been financially impacted,” says Bayoh, BS’01 (Metro).
When the restaurateur and entrepreneur moved back to Essex County after graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson University, she saw a disparity between the reality of urban communities and the perception of those areas.
“In Irvington, N.J., where I opened my first restaurant, the community was thriving, but no national brand wanted to come in and lay bones here,” she says.
She advocated hard to bring IHOP, the pancake house restaurant chain, to town. Now she owns IHOP franchises in Newark, N.J., Paterson, N.J., and Irvington, N.J., with a fourth under construction in Newark. She’s also a co-founder of Cornbread, a soul food restaurant with locations in Maplewood, N.J., West Mifflin, Pa., Greensburg, Pa., and Tarentum, Pa. Bayoh is also involved with residential and commercial urban redevelopment projects in the state.
“Right up the street from the Teaneck Campus, there’s an IHOP on Cedar Lane. We used to go there, stay there late at night, just chatting. I’ve always loved the pancakes and the brand. It was just a natural fit,” says Bayoh.
Nearly fifteen years later, Bayoh has established an inclusive brand and a long-term community presence.
“When your purpose is bigger than just opening a restaurant in your community, when your purpose is actually to be a beacon of hope, to ease other people’s burdens, the decisions you make take on a bigger meaning,” she says.
That’s why when the pandemic hit, she quickly started to think about the best ways to extend support.
“We’re providing a service to our community. We’re providing free [takeout] breakfast to whoever comes in and needs it. We’re providing lunch to school-age kids who depend on lunch from school,” says Bayoh.
Her team is also making and delivering food to senior living residences and frontline hospital workers.
“My team literally looks like hospital workers, because we’ve got the gloves, the face masks and the hairnets. It really looks like we’re going to do surgical work,” she says. “It’s high stakes, so we’re doing everything we can to make sure that we’re delivering safe meals to people.”
The novel coronavirus has thrust change upon the restaurant industry writ large. “This is the test of a generation,” Bayoh says. “COVID-19 is already changing the way we dine and the way we do business. With all this horror and debt, with all the bad things happening right now, we could just go insane. But there’s got to be some success out of this.”
She says that this is the time to innovate. “When you cannot live your normal life, you have to dig deeper and sit still so the answers will come. We have to be creative to solve problems. We’re in a space of opportunity.”
Bayoh continues to set a positive, realistic tone at her businesses as she navigates uncertainty day by day. “I’m a firm believer that things are going to get better, but this time has not been without challenges.”
“When you go to a local restaurant, a mom and pop shop, understand that you are sustaining an entrepreneur. Now more than ever, the industry needs help. So many restaurants won’t open back up. And that’s someone’s dream that’s been crushed,” she says. So order out dinner, she suggests. That gives restaurateurs business, which means they can continue to employ and pay workers. Or make a donation to a restaurant or business in support of their community efforts.
“Wake up in the morning and say, ‘How can I be useful?’ To yourself, to your community, to your family — anything. Be a beacon of hope and change for someone else who is having a hard time,” Bayoh charges.