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Interview with Jasmine Brown, Owner, De’Lish Cafe

In our interview with one of Dayton’s premier African American owned restaurants, De'Lish Cafe, the owner Jasmine Brown tells us a story about triumph. Being close to almost relocating to another city, she and her husband took a leap of faith and started something that was totally foreign and unfamiliar. The owner of De’Lish Cafe discussed the myriad of challenges she faced and almost giving up on her business. Yet, without the support from her children, Ms. Brown would not have been able to service her city on the scale that she has every year. She tells the Lean In Dayton audience how it is so important to be charitable and give back to your own community.

Lean In Dayton: Tell me a bit about your background and what led to opening up De’Lish Cafe?

Jasmine Brown: I was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. I graduated from Meadowdale High school in 1998. After that, I attended Sinclair College for a little bit. I was pregnant with my daughter and at that point, my significant other at the time who is now my husband suggested, “I think you should stay home with the kids, and let me stay in the workforce.” For many years, I was a stay at home mom. After I had my second child, I attended a couple schools.  I went to hair school and received a cosmetology license. Later, I went back to school at Sinclair for a little bit. I didn’t finish. By that time, my husband and I had got into realty and bought several pieces of property. Currently, we own ten different properties here in Dayton, or eleven, counting the commercial building that we just purchased last year. Right before we opened the restaurant, we were planning to leave Dayton. We wanted a fresh new start. We were considering moving to Columbus. The decision was a big deal. We thought about it for an entire year and then decided that we were going to go and look for a place before the summer arrived. Right around May, my husband’s friend introduced an idea to him about opening up a restaurant. When my husband explained the idea to me, I wasn't sure because I thought we were supposed to move. At the time, I was eager to relocate. My husband said, “No, let’s try this restaurant out.”  It happened fast. We started looking for buildings in June, and settled on a location and signed our lease in July. We had planned to open in October, but a two hundred pound piece of the building had fallen off onto the sidewalk. The repairs kind of slowed things down a bit so instead of opening up in October, we opened up in December. This December, we will celebrate our five year anniversary.

Prior to owning the restaurant, I did not have any restaurant experience. It was a challenge initially. By March, that following year, which was just a few months later, one of our business partners, who was also the chef, had left. The business relationship just didn't work out. There was one other person that we were in partnership with, who eventually moved to Columbus. By June, it was just my husband, my sister-and-law and me.

Lean In Dayton: Who or what would you say inspired you to step out there to open up your own business?

Jasmine Brown: My mom and my aunts raised me. Throughout my childhood, they worked very hard. I remember around Christmas time, my mom would get a second job. The second job ensured that my brother, my sister and I would have a Christmas. Two of my aunts worked in the foodservice industry. I guess I had some sort of familiarity with this industry. I just didn't know it and never really considered going into this kind of work because as a little girl, I witnessed their hard work. They made sure that their families were taken care of.  It spurred me to push hard and take notice. I felt that if they were able to do it, then I could do it as well.

Lean In Dayton: The restaurant business is male-dominated. What was some of the challenges you faced as a woman while opening up your own restaurant?

Jasmine Brown: Here in Dayton, some of the top locally owned restaurants have women chefs and are owned by women. The challenge for me was that I was a little different from the rest of the group. I’m not a chef and I don't cook. I manage the day to day operations. Initially, it was a bit uneasy because when you walk into a room, they may greet you and immediately may want to call you chef. And I may explain, “No, I don't do the cooking.” You have that feeling that you want to fit in with everybody, yet you feel kind of like an outsider. I was a lot younger than some of the other women as well.  When I share my background story and explain that I don't cook. They may ask me, “Well what made you get into this business because it's a very tough business to be in?

Interviewed by Julene Allen

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Julene Allen