Community is at the heart of everything Bayoh does. It’s the reason she decided to try and open an IHOP franchise at such a young age. She says growing up in Irvington, New Jersey, there wasn’t much in the way of dining options, describing the area as a “food desert.” In hopes of offering the community more, she headed out to seek a loan to help open her first IHOP.
It would take seven trips to seven different banks before Bayoh was able to secure the capital to get operations off the ground. She says one of the biggest challenges was convincing banks to give a young, Black, immigrant entrepreneur a $2.5 million loan.
“They had all sorts of reasons why they turned me down,” she says. “That was hard for me because the passion was there and the community [Irvington] needed it.”
Bayoh opened the doors to her first IHOP at 27. Irvington had one more dining option, but she wasn’t satisfied.
Bayoh wanted to give her community even more agency when it came time to eat, so she did something unconventional. She started adding her own recipes and menu items to the existing IHOP lineup in an effort to expand her customers' options.
What started off as a supplementary pot of grits to accommodate a regular turned into a handful of recipes revolving around soul food that became mainstays on the daily menu.
Items like chicken and waffles, collard greens, and cornbread were added at the request of community members who frequented the IHOP she ran. The newly added menu items became some of the top-selling dishes week after week, and Bayoh knew she was on to something.
The pop-up items would eventually be removed from the menu after some back-and-forth with corporate, but the success gave Bayoh the inspiration she needed to branch out. She says she spent time traveling across the country to different soul food restaurants.
About three years after debuting the pot of grits at her first IHOP, Bayoh opened the first Cornbread location in New Jersey.
One of the ways she gives back these days is by offering a second chance to formerly incarcerated people. “I don’t think we should judge someone’s whole life based on one terrible thing they did,” she says. “This program hasn’t been easy. It’s been really hard, but I feel like it is the right thing to do. We need to have more compassion.”
Compassion and community took Bayoh further than she dreamed. Today, she is gearing up to open the third location of Cornbread with her business partner, Elzadie Smith, in Brooklyn, New York, which she says will be the biggest test for her concept thus far. Cornbread is part of the expanding portfolio of independent black and brown-owned culinary brands funded by the New Voices Fund, a growth capital fund run by Richelieu Dennis, the founder of SheaMoisture and owner of Essence Ventures.
“If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere,” she says.
Two more locations, in Montclair, New Jersey and Jersey City, are in the pipeline as well.
Cornbread is a fast casual inspired by the recipes Bayoh debuted at the Irvington IHOP years ago.
The brand features digital kiosks for ordering. Bayoh adds the Brooklyn market seemed like a fit for the newest Cornbread because she believes customers will understand and embrace the fast-paced, modern concept.
Ultimately, Bayoh wants Cornbread to be the most successful restaurant franchise led by an African American woman, she says.
“Our purpose is to honor the communities we serve,” she says. “The mission is to be committed to taking care of each other.”