When Jermale and Anissa Eddie opened Malamiah Juice Bar LLC in 2013, the couple aimed to be role models not just for their three sons, but also for the rest of the Black and brown community.
Malamiah Juice Bar was the only Black-owned business at Grand Rapids’ Downtown Market for six years, and one of just a handful in the entire downtown area, Jermale Eddie told MiBiz. The company’s presence in those years reflected national trends, as only about 18 percent of U.S. businesses are minority-owned.
Meanwhile, businesses owned by people of color were more likely to shutter during the pandemic compared to white-owned businesses, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The number of active Black business owners fell by 41 percent by the end of April 2020, while Latinx business owners dropped by 32 percent and Asian business owners dropped by 26 percent.
As the pandemic whittles away the already disproportionate number of businesses owned by people of color, the Eddie’s have worked hard to keep their business afloat. Maintaining a downtown storefront is crucial to show representation for other entrepreneurs of color looking to start a business, Jermale Eddie said.
Keeping the business within the family is also a key aspect of the Eddie’s succession plan.
“We definitely hope that we have a legacy of this business to pass on to our children,” he said. “More than that, it’s the idea of having something tangible to pass on. We say our children, but within our household there are kids out there that we consider our children or our community’s children — the Black and brown youth who can look up to someone and say, ‘I see a Black entrepreneur who looks like me.’”
Nate Phillips, business liaison for the recently formed Black Minority Business Council at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, has heard from business owners with similar goals of passing their company on to the next generation.
“That is very much instilled in a lot of these small and Black-owned businesses,” Phillips said. “Many I’m talking to seem like they are right at the startup level and have been around a couple years. They are coming into that legacy- and wealth-building stage.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Malamiah Juice Bar grew steadily after opening in the Downtown Market in 2013. The company moved into a downtown storefront in December 2019 at the Studio Park development, just a few months before widespread uncertainty ensued.
“Traffic was slow in the winter, but we were excited for spring to generate revenue and profits we expected,” Eddie said. “But we didn’t think that spring was going to bring the coronavirus. It was almost like having the life sucked out of us.”
Setting an example
Maria de Luz Martinez, who owns Tamales Mary with her husband, Humberto Alvarez, learned how to make tamales from her mother, and hopes to pass the tradition on to her daughters one day.
Martinez immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 17. While initially working at Tacos El Cunado, Martinez saw how successful her tamales were doing, leading her to open her own restaurant.
“It was very important to me to open my own business because I wanted to grow and try to do it myself,” Martinez said. “I was thinking we needed a tamales place in the city where you can choose any tamale you want.”
As a business owner, Martinez values the ability to give other families and members of her own family the chance to work at her restaurant and make money, she said.
“It’s important for myself and our family to set an example to other families in the Latinx community in Grand Rapids and Michigan to show that if they have an idea for a business and want to really work at it, there are opportunities that they can seek out,” Martinez said.
Tamales Mary’s main location is in Wyoming, but the company expanded in June with a new location in Grand Rapids’ Eastown neighborhood. Martinez has struggled with slow sales and staffing at the second location, but she hopes word spreads soon.
“It was a little complicated to find the right people to work with us over here, but there aren’t that many other Mexican restaurants around here,” Martinez said. “I love this neighborhood, and I think it’s a good opportunity for us to start growing in this location.
MarcQus Wright’s idea to turn his baking hobby into a business came from his 5-year-old daughter and culminated in the formation of Daddy’s Dough LLC in 2015. Wright’s nine siblings, his wife and two children all played a role in naming the cookie business, developing a logo and consulting on how to operate the company.
Daddy’s Dough cookies are sold online as well as at several grocery stores, farmers markets and private events throughout West Michigan. Wright sees the family business as an option available to his children if they are interested in taking it over when they get older. As a Black business owner, Wright emphasizes the importance in finding ways to build generational wealth for his family.
“I have something I know I can generate an income and profit from, so if my kids can’t find anything, they can come and work for me,” Wright said. “I’m trying to build this up as something I can be proud of and pass on to my children.”
Daddy’s Dough started out operating from the Wright’s home kitchen, but it is now on its third shared commercial kitchen space. Wright’s next goal is to find the company its own commercial kitchen space.
“Right now the demand is there, but we need more space to operate, so we’re looking at places,” Wright said.
“Our customers keep asking for a storefront, but every other day I hear of another business that’s closing its storefront,” he added, suggesting a hesitancy toward making a large capital investment under a traditional bakery model.
Daddy’s Dough’s primary revenue stream was previously through private events, which shifted to online sales during the pandemic. Retail sales have helped supplement online and private event sales this year, Wright said.
Wright’s children’s interest in the family business has ebbed and flowed in recent years, but they still help selling at events and with marketing, Wright said. His wife, Tawanna, is a lawyer and reviews the company’s contracts.
“They’re involved in different ways, sometimes it’s heavier than others,” Wright said. “It’s kind of an option that they’ll have: What will they want for their life, and can Daddy’s Dough help provide that?”