Entrepreneur Adenhah Bayoh on Success and Being a Jersey Girl

On this day when for the first time a woman is in the running for the presidency, we want you to meet a woman who’s lived the promise of America. Adenhah Bayoh fled civil war in her homeland, found shelter in Sierra Leone and sanctuary — at the age of 13 — in America. The product of Newark public schools now owns restaurants and $200 million worth of urban redevelopment projects to revitalize neighborhoods. And is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the state. NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams recently asked Bayoh what it took for an immigrant child to become an American.

Williams: Thank you for being here. What did it take for a 13-year-old kid to arrive here as an immigrant and transition to being an American? Tell me what that was like.

Bayoh: Pure hard work. My journey here really started when I was 9 years old. In the middle of the night my grandmother woke me up and said we have to go because there was rebels in my village. She wanted us to really leave that night, so we walked about 200 miles to another country, Sierra Leone, and I initially started my journey here. When I got to the United States, it changed my life.

Williams: How?

Bayoh: The community. The people of Jersey, the people of Newark really opened their arms to me and my family and that was the difference.

Williams: How do you, and now you’re and entrepreneur and you’re supporting women at every time, why is it important to do that?

Bayoh: For me, I firmly do believe that when you empower a woman and you educate a woman you have empowered a community. You educate a community. So for me I’m always drawn to women because I think women, we are powerful. I think we have to believe in ourselves. We have to always remember that we should be at the table. And if we can’t be at the table we should give voice to the women that are not at the table. So it’s extremely important to me that I give opportunities to women and empower women because essentially when I’m doing that I’m empowering my own community.

Williams: As a child have you ever heard about the American Dream?

Bayoh: Yes, absolutely.

Williams: Why do you think that it would apply to you?

Bayoh: Because I think, I believe in opportunities. When I arrived in America, I had been a refugee in two different countries already. When I got here I was able to see the opportunity and take advantage of it. And I think pure hard work — when you’re hardworking and you believe and you’re tenacious in what you’re doing people around you, they help you. They help you be more successful, but ultimately you have to do the bulk of the work and the universe is going to help you. And I believe for me that universe was the community — the urban communities.

Williams: Where does your entrepreneurial spirit come from?

Bayoh: My grandmother. My grandmother was a businesswoman in Africa and she, I watched her negotiate in the market space. She had farms, she had restaurants, she had real estate and I’ve always been interested in the book “The Outlier” and it talks about the 10,000 hours before you’re successful. I feel I started putting in my 10,000 hours at the age of 5 with my grandmother. So I believe I embody her spirit. I learn from her and she was extremely tenacious, hardworking and it was a blessing to be at her footstep while she ran her businesses.

Williams: You’ve been appointed to the Federal Advisory Council on Small Businesses. Where do you see small business as an engine for this country?

Bayoh: I think small businesses are the backbone of our economy. I think without my restaurants in Irvington there would be some jobs missing from that community. Without my restaurants in Paterson there would be some jobs missing from Paterson. Without my real estate developments there wouldn’t be some jobs. So I think small businesses is, at its core, the economic engine of our communities. So I wholeheartedly believe that for New Jersey to grow small businesses have got to be at the forefront of that growth.

Williams: Your restaurants provide free breakfast to children under the age of 12.

Bayoh: Yes.

Williams: What is the cost to you of doing that?

Bayoh: That was a program initially that I started because I was once a child of an immigrant that oftentimes struggled to put food on the table. So if I can be a helping hand for a 5- or 6-year-old child going to school not hungry, it costs me nothing. Even if it does cost me something, it costs me nothing. Because I think to be part of a community you have to embrace everything that community is. As much as you take from it you have to be willing to give just as much back to that community. And I think part of it is just, like in this month we’re doing free turkeys, we’re giving away free turkeys at both restaurants. In December, we’re going to close the store and do breakfast for dinner and I feed a community. That’s my way of saying thank you. Thank you for opening your hearts to me. Thank you for allowing me to serve you. So it costs me nothing — just a thank you.

Williams: What have you thought as you’ve heard the debate over immigration in the national presidential campaign?

Bayoh: I think coming to the United States as an immigrant, I’ve got to tell you that it breaks my heart to see some of the language that are being used to describe immigration to this country. Because I do believe immigrants to this country add to this economy. We add, we create jobs and we make the communities that we settle in very fruitful. So it really breaks my heart because at its core immigration is a powerful thing. When you can merge cultures and make it work, ideas and make it work together, it’s a great thing.

Williams: Define Jersey Girl.

Bayoh: Jersey Girl is me. Jersey Girl is powerful. Jersey Girl is hardworking. Jersey Girl believes in herself, she believes in her community and ultimately she believes in a sisterhood of other Jersey Girls. So I embody that spirit of Jersey Girl and I can’t wait to tell people that I am from the state of New Jersey. I love the women in New Jersey. We’re not competetive toward each other. We support each other and I think it’s a powerful thing to be a Jersey Girl.

Williams: Thank you for being with us.

Bayoh: Thank you for having me, Mary Alice. I love you, thank you for having me here.