By Avalon Zoppo firstname.lastname@example.org
NEWARK– When West African refugee Adenah Bayoh landed in Newark 26 years ago, the city was “literally heaven on earth” for her.
She arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport at the age of 12 after the civil war pushed her from her Liberian village into a refugee camp in Sierra Leone.
“Coming from somewhere with no toilets or running water… When I heard people say Newark is this dangerous place, I didn’t know what they were talking about,” said Bayoh.
Now a successful businesswoman and developer, Bayoh is opening her third IHOP restaurant in the same city she spent her childhood, and hopes to be part of what officials are calling “Newark’s renaissance.”
Under its previous owners, Bayoh said the pancake house– located on Bergen Street– was on the verge of closing when she decided to step in to purchase the property in March. She said dozens of employees would have lost jobs, but instead, she plans on hiring 40 new workers.
After walking away from initial negotiations in 2012, Bayoh returned when she saw the restaurant in disarray. The acquisition and renovations combined, she said, totaled more than $1.5 million and included a redesign, new furniture and a conference room.
The project was personal for Bayoh, who attended Weequahic High School and volunteered at University Hospital as a teenager. She now lives in Englewood, but said her roots are in Newark.
Above all, Bayoh hopes the new restaurant will shift the focus from revitalizing Newark’s downtown area to less developed parts of the city.
“Right now, the focus is on the downtown area. But if you look up here, businesses are closing,” she said. “I just want to spark something in this community with this project.”
And if anyone can turn the restaurant around, friends and city officials say it’s Bayoh, who has experience working in inner cities.
Ten years ago, Bayoh opened her first IHOP in Irvington in 2007 after realizing the closest franchise at the time was more than an hour away.
“I scheduled a meeting with the mayor because I was a citizen and needed to let him know,” she said.
At 25-years-old, Bayoh bought an Irvington diner that was on the market and began her journey as the youngest African-American franchisee of IHOP. Her restaurant application was denied seven times and she struggled to find a bank willing to fund her vision, but she said the setbacks fueled her.
Eight years later, the 38-year-old opened her second flapjack house in Paterson.
“I could not be more proud. She is very dedicated to the community and a fierce businesswoman. She’s really giving it back,” said IHOP’s Senior Director for Franchise Development Nicole Durham-Mallory.
With a $225 million real estate portfolio under her belt, Durham-Mallory called Bayoh a role model for young girls who aspire to become business owners.
Urban League of Essex County Board Member Vivian Cox Fraser commended Bayoh’s plans to hire 40 additional employees as a way to spark “transformative change.”
“Most of us get our income from a job, so it’s really great when you have people who believe in investing in communities to bring jobs,” she said. “Jobs are so important.”
Source: News Now/NJ.com