Why Cornbread Farm to Soul thinks now is the time for fast-casual soul food

Fried chicken and mac and cheese are top sellers. / Photo courtesy of Cornbread Farm to Soul.

An IHOP franchisee since she was 27, Adenah Bayoh said she’s used to getting very specific requests from customers.

“My restaurants are typically in underserved and marginalized communities, and my demographics were very different,” she said. “So I was getting requests like, ‘Can I have some oatmeal and cheese? Can I have liver and gravy?

And, at first, she added some of these dishes to the menu of her IHOP units, because that’s what customers wanted.

At least until IHOP intervenes.

“They were pissed off,” Bayoh said. “They were like, ‘You can’t sell catfish, grits, and eggs on our menu. It’s not who we are.

Bayoh on the demand for soul food

But Bayoh realized she had tapped into something. There was clearly a demand for dishes that many remember their grandmothers serving — dishes found at family soul food restaurants, mostly in the South, and rarely at a chain restaurant.

And that’s why Bayoh created Cornbread Farm to Soul, a fast-casual restaurant concept that debuted in Maplewood, NJ, in 2017 and will soon have four locations in the New York/New Jersey area.

It’s also a concept she’s considering franchising, as Bayoh thinks now is the time to introduce soul food as part of modern restaurants.

“It’s paying homage to a culture that has been overlooked, to a certain food that has been overlooked,” she said. “I wanted to do it in a way that people who have done it before me can look at this and say, ‘Wow, I’m proud of that. It’s what we’ve always wanted,” but in modern times.

Bayoh pays homage to a little-known culture

In fact, Bayoh said she applied the Chipotle model to soul food. But, by that, she doesn’t just mean fast casual.

Cornbread may be serving grandma’s recipe for fried chicken, fried catfish and macaroni and cheese, but the restaurants are state-of-the-art, with self-ordering kiosks, strong digital sales and offsite and a reliance on third party delivery.

The menu, created by co-founder Elzadie Smith, includes minimally processed dishes made from scratch in restaurants, Bayoh said. The chicken is raised without antibiotics. Yams are peeled and cooked in house, and vegetables like cabbage and collard greens are slowly simmered.

Bayoh said Smith, a native of Tifton, Georgia, uses food as her “love language.”

“I tell everyone, don’t come around Miss Zadie if you don’t want to eat,” Bayoh said.

At Cornbread, the best seller is the fried chicken, which is also served in a chicken and waffle combo. Plates with one protein and two sides are around $20-$25 and it’s all served with cornbread. For dessert: apple pie or peach pie.

The recipes are somewhat updated for health purposes, she said. The greens are made with just onions and pepper – no pork – with salt kept to a minimum. And the offerings include baked chicken, turkey wings and ribs.

Restaurants range from approximately 1,800 to 2,500 square feet. The largest opened recently in Brooklyn, NY, and Bayoh said the restaurants are “doing Chick-fil-A and Shake Shack numbers,” though she declined to provide details due to the company’s disclosure limitations. franchise.

Bayoh is determined to set up a franchise system that will particularly appeal to female operators.

“We have a huge cast of supporting women” in the restaurant industry, she said. “One of the things I know from my own personal experience is that one of the best ways to get homeownership in the system is through franchising. This allowed me not to make so many mistakes.

Bayoh to attract women to the franchise

Bayoh has four IHOP units, which she calls “her babies.” When she became the owner at 27, she thought she was the brand’s youngest franchisee.

Born in Liberia, Bayoh came to the United States at age 13 and grew up in New Jersey, describing herself as a proud product of public schools and public housing.

Now Bayoh is on a mission to “make a few millionaires,” she said, in part by helping her employees become owners.

Cornbread isn’t alone on the road to building a franchised food chain.

The Celebrity’s Soul Food brand, with offices in Florida and Beverly Hills, Calif., appears to have three units, according to its website. The concept has a larger menu and a higher price tag, with dishes like Chili-Glazed Salmon ($22), Demi-Glace Braised Oxtail ($35), and Entourage Pineapple Bowl with Shrimp and herb and garlic butter chicken, saffron purloo and rice. a creole butter sauce ($22).

Bayoh said she welcomes the competition.

“The more the merrier,” she said. “There’s this demand for soul food, and I think we know we have the ability to do that, but do it right.

“I want to be a beacon,” Bayoh said. “My vision is to grow Cornbread across America and make it a successful business led by a black woman.”

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