Adenah Bayoh has a story that movies are made of.
As a 12-year-old she fled her African homeland of Liberia during the country’s bloody civil war. Her father brought her to the United States, where through sheer determination and positive thinking, Bayoh not only put her herself through Fairleigh Dickinson College by working not one but three jobs and soon after became a successful young business women. First she excelled in real estate. She launched her real estate career by saving money from her college jobs to buy a three-family house in Irvington, which she rented out to tenants while living there. After this she started investing in urban properties, purchasing several residential and commercial properties in her early 20s.
And now, at 34*, she is making business waves as the owner of one of IHOP’s best performing franchisees, out in Irvington, N.J.
And earlier this month, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York named Bayoh to its Small Business and Agricultural Advisory Council. The Federal Reserve Bank is one of the country’s 12 reserve banks that create monetary policy and regulate financial institutions.
To say Bayoh is motivated, would not do her justice. She wakes at 4 a.m. for a light breakfast, checks in at her 24-hour restaurant, heads out to exercise then back home again to get her baby daughter ready for the day and her three-year-old son set for preschool.
Obviously Bayoh would seem like the spokesperson for the woman who has it all — a solid balance between home and work, even if work is an array of industries. “She’s a restaurant owner, a landlord and a developer — not to mention being a one-woman economic engine for the Township of Irvington,” reports New Jersey Business.Bayoh is now involved in a major real estate development, a 700-residential unit complex called the Hilltop Residential Development. It will be built over a 15-year multi-phase process and is a $160 million construction project that will include 125 residential units. Bayoh is a partner though the development firm Kapwood.
It’s no wonder she was named one of the top 50 business women by New Jersey Business magazine.
MadameNoire: What prompted you to open an IHOP franchise?
Adenah Bayoh: I think what prompted me really was my love for the brand. When I came from Africa at the age of 12 my father took me to an IHOP. I remember walking in and smelling things that were new to me: the bacon, the pancakes. I enjoyed the food and atmosphere enormously. Then as I grew up, IHOP was the place he took me to celebrate new achievements and life benchmarks. But when I was in college whenever I wanted to celebrate by going to IHOP, since there was none in my community I had to drive out of town to enjoy my favorite treat. So I always thought Irvington could use an IHOP.
Then the mayor of Irvington (Mayor Wayne), who had heard of me through my real estate ventures, at one point he told me about a diner that was being sold and suggested I open an IHOP. So I did my research and realized this was something I could do. I went ahead with the process of becoming a franchisee.
MN: What were some obstacles you faced if any as a woman and an immigrant in starting a new business?
AB: Being a women going into a field that not many women go into is difficult. But in business in general, women always have the deck stacked against us so I don’t pay attention to my obstacles. For just as many obstacles I have had, I have also had a lot of opportunities. I think because I fight so hard I enjoy my every success and I use obstacles as motivating factors to make me successful.
Financing was a challenge, especially because I am young and a woman of color. But I think if you are tenacious you will succeed. Whenever I got turned down for financing I would ask why. Then I would fix that problem. And if I was turned down again, I would do the same until I corrected all the problems. Then there was no excuse for me not to get financing.
MN: Why do you feel you have been so successful?
AB: I think because I believe in always growing and trying to do better. Also, I am not afraid to say I can’t do it all. I know my shortcomings and I have people in place to fill these shortcomings for me.
IHOP I really believe is offering great service and quality food but I also believe in giving back to the community. With every venture I do, I look at how it will positively impact the community. I don’t want my businesses just to take from the community; I want them to give back and make the community better, to offer life skills to my employees, to hopefully attract other businesses to the area because of the success of my business, and to increase the opportunities in the community.
Another project I am involved with is called the Hilltop Residential Development, which I really believe will revitalize the town. The residential units will be mixed-income rentals along with the commercial tenants. It will give a major boost to the community.
MN: What are your business goals?
AB: I want to grow my hospitality brand; I would love to open more IHOPs. I want to bring quality hospitality to the urban community. I am opening one in Patterson, NJ, in April.
MN: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
AB: What I enjoy more about what I do is the instant gratification I get from helping people. Not only for making sure my customers are satisfied, but also from the opportunity I have with my employees to actually have the chance to improve a person’s life by giving them opportunity.
MN: Do you believe your upbringing helped you to be successful today?
AB: I totally believe that I am so tenacious from my childhood upbringing in Liberia. I would not be who I am today without my formative years in Liberia. I can only tell you some of the things growing up as a child that really build your character.
When I was seven or eight years old the war started in my country and in the middle of the night we had to migrate to Sierra Leone. But when we got there, my cousin and I noticed that they didn’t have the same fruit and vegetables our people were used to. So we decided to go back to Liberia to get fruit and vegetables and bring them back to Sierra Leone. Of course this was dangerous, but we were thinking of the money we could make selling our fruits and vegetables. This was how we sustained ourselves.
Then one day I remember, we had gone back to get our fruits and vegetables to sell and had used our wooden raft to cross over the border to Sierra Leone. When I got there I saw all these little kids running to me. They were running to tell me my father was here from America to take me. Then I saw my father, but the only thing I could ask him was, “How am I going to sell my fruit and vegetables for the day?”
He still teases me about this. But I think this is where my business principles for were formed. I always had a mind for business.
*We’ve corrected her age from 27 to the correct current age. We apologize for the error.