Black in Business

“She came to town and was asking for a place to get some good food…they would say ‘of course, you got to try Ezell’s,” said Lewis Rudd, owner of Ezell’s Famous Fried Chicken. “She called up on a Saturday and she wanted to have Ezell’s chicken delivered to her hotel downtown.”

At the time, Ezell’s Famous Chicken had a delivery service that brought their finger-licking delicious chicken to individuals and businesses in the Seattle area.

“[The person on the phone] said ‘Hey, we don’t deliver Saturday’…the next voice he heard said ‘this is Oprah Winfrey, and I want some of that chicken and I want it now!”

Ezell’s Famous Fried Chicken, perhaps the most notable business of the historically Black Central District, has become a local celebrity and a staple fried chicken joint. The classic crinkle cut fries, tender chicken strips, and sweet and fluffy rolls are just a few examples of the fresh and delicious food Ezell’s strives to serve to the community everyday. The flavorful food, the welcoming atmosphere, and genuine employees have all allowed Ezell’s to gain popularity and adoration amongst local residents, news platforms, and big name celebrities. Although the business started in the Central District, Ezell’s has spread to various surrounding neighborhoods and cities, such as Wallingford, Bellevue, Rainier Valley, Renton and more. 

Ezell’s and other Black-owned businesses in the Central District are integral to the continuation of Black culture and community. These businesses have helped to grow and shape the community throughout the years, providing ample job opportunities to local residents and cultivating a tight-knit community. Due to their impact, the success of Black businesses and their owners deserves to be highlighted and praised.

Decades of institutionalized racism and anti-Blackness have made it so Black people have to face a multitude of obstacles on a daily basis, especially when creating strong and profitable franchises. Because of the difficulty establishing and maintaining a Black-owned business, there are several reasons as to why it is crucial to support the ones that do exist.

One prominent form of societal oppression that Black business owners face is inequity that often comes through banking loans and realtor policies.

“The systems are sometimes designed to hold back certain people, and Black people have experienced that and we have experienced that,” Rudd said.

Redlining —a practiced form of segregation from the 1930s – 1970s that refused banking or home loans based on race or ethnic makeup— contributes heavily to the inequity that plagues the aforementioned policies. More recently, gentrification has been a primary system disproportionately impacting Black businesses.

“There are a lot of Black business owners that close their doors…a lot of Black businesses that move to the South: Renton, Tacoma, Kent” said Earl Lancaster, the owner of Earl’s Cuts and Styles.

Generally, increased rent prices and competition with newer, predominantly white businesses have made it difficult for many business owners of color to have a strong grasp for their business or company growth. As a result, many Black business owners have struggled.

“Not a lot stay here because to be a Black business, you need Black customers,” Lancaster said.

Because many communities have been greatly affected by redlining, gentrification, and institutionalized racism, highlighting Black culture and achievement can be quite influential. Black businesses have a unique way of emphasizing Black excellence, struggle, history and heritage in their work.

For food establishments, this often comes in the form of bringing complex flavors and spices from the South, Latin America, and other Black communities across the globe to local communities. Without these businesses, the impact that Black culture and history has on many communities, especially the Central District, may not be recognized or appreciated.

“In the C.D., Black businesses are important so we can remain a community,” Lancaster said.

Aside from highlighting Black culture and history, Black businesses are essential because they stimulate local economies. Large corporations and companies are motivated solely by profit, which decreases their motivation to provide or invest in smaller, local economies.

Supporting Black businesses directly feeds into the wealth and employment rates within our neighborhoods, communities, and cities. According to the Civic Economics Study in Grand Rapids, Michigan, if you spend $100 at a local business, roughly $68 stays in the local economy. If you spend the same at a large business, only $43 stays in the local economy. Such implications are huge for Black communities.

The strengthening of local economies, especially in communities of color, can increase the average income and access to resources —education, health care, child care, etc.— for individuals. Having prosperous local economies can greatly increase the availability of jobs for residents.

“Having more employment opportunities for the Black [population]…[is what] makes for a healthier community,” Rudd said.

Black people have a higher than average unemployment rate in the United States because, amongst other reasons, many companies and organizations exhibit racial biases during the hiring process. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 6.2% of Black Americans are unemployed, whereas only 3.3% of white Americans are unemployed. In order to combat traditionally higher Black unemployment rates, it’s important to encourage Black entrepreneurship and business to counteract the discriminatory effects of capitalism in the United States.

Black businesses being located within the heart of their communities is highly beneficial as they can be used as a job resource for residents in the community. Ezell’s is known for providing ample work opportunities, particularly to local youth. Employment for a young person of color can be a highly rewarding and empowering experience.

“We can bridge that gap by helping to build [youth of color’s] self esteem, encouraging and inspiring them to do better,” Rudd said.

The influx of local job opportunities not only decreases unemployment rates and strengthens the local economy, but it can also decrease the United State’s racialized wealth gap as Black businesses tend to be more likely to hire employees of color.

“Black business owners…are employing people from our communities, [as] we understand our own people and some of the struggles they are faced with,” Rudd said.

Aside from Ezell’s, another example of a thriving Black business with a positive impact in the area is Marjorie, a Northwest bistro serving residents since 2010. Its owner, Donna Moodie, was inspired to cook from a young age after spending most days admiring her mother’s comforting Jamaican dishes. In addition, Moodie’s mother sought inspiration from a variety of global cuisines.

Moodie’s upbringing certainly inspired the eclectic-style cuisine of Marjorie where dishes from around the world are served with locally-sourced ingredients.

As a prosperous restaurant, Moodie gained local recognition for her unique menu. However, when she moved from Belltown to her current location, she faced some adversity and racism from investors.

“I’ve had investors walk into my restaurant for a meeting, walk past me and approach an employee instead. It’s hard for them to believe that someone like me could run such an establishment,” Moodie said.

This is an experience that is felt by many Black business owners. Despite the claimed progressiveness of Seattle, blatant racism is still embedded in the history and culture. Because of this, Moodie and other Black business owners can be seen as role models because of their intelligence, strength, and willingness to combat stereotypes and societal systems of oppression.

Despite the changes that accompany gentrification in the Central District, we are still home to some prospering and powerful Black businesses. Black businesses are essential to the longevity of the culture, history, and community of Black folks. Without these businesses as a cornerstone, cultural and historical knowledge surrounding Black Americans may be erased.

The Black businesses featured in this article all strive to preserve the Black history and culture rooted in the Central District. To aspiring Black business owners, these business provided the advice about the continuation of influential Black businesses.

“I would say have mentors. Continually educate yourself, and don’t take no for an answer,” Moodie said.

“The most important advice that I give is always about believing in yourself, surrounding yourself with positive people” Rudd said.