By Priscilla Wiredu
Posted on August 26, 2021
Black-owned businesses are becoming common in Ontario’s local business sector. Knowing the story behind the up-and-coming Black-owned brands is crucial to understanding why we must celebrate these milestones in our society. Black Voice interviewed Chanée Dowdie. It is always pivotal to understand a Black restaurateur, as she tells her story, struggles, and successes. Dowdie is an entrepreneur and restaurant owner of the Mississauga Soul Food restaurant Honey, located at 5977 Dixie Road. She allows curbside pickup and partnered with Uber Eats for delivery.
Below is an up-close and personal interview about her journey to owning and running her grassroots business.
What inspired you to open your business?
I have always known I was going to be a CEO. Whether I was the Editor-in-Chief of my own publishing house, the leading partner to a law firm, or now, the head of a budding hospitality industry. My first journey is this Soul Food restaurant, Honey, and it is inspired by change. I am a 27-year-old Black woman who wants to be a part of this change of inspiring, leading, and directing young Black youth. My store was inspired by the need to create a change in mindset about generational poverty. How can a restaurant do such a thing? Well, by the people who are part of my team, and then by community outreach programs—a pillar in my business. Honey was truly inspired out of need.
What were some hardships you faced during your journey to opening your business?
I feel like the entire process was a hardship. I have never been a part of a startup before, so I only knew basic things to do, get permits from the city, renovations, inspections, then boom, grand opening. However, to say there was a lot more to it would be an understatement. If I were to pick one thing that was the most difficult though, I would say acquiring honest and good commitment from hired help was the most difficult. As a young Black woman, that was the most time-consuming part of this entire process.
What are some things you wished you knew before opening up your business?
I wish someone told me pretty much everything about starting a business. I wish someone would have told me, “Chanée, you’re going to blow through your budget.” I also know that prices of things went up because of COVID-19, however, I was not prepared mentally, or financially for the entirety of this. But luckily, I’ve got a good support system, and by the end, we were able to scrape by, and mentally just push through. I have made a journal though, so if anyone wants to know all the unexpected, I’ve got you.
Can you tell us any special events or milestones your business has celebrated since opening?
We are about to celebrate three months of being open. I think that is a major milestone. I’m so proud of my team because we really kicked off from the start, and to be so busy during a pandemic is a blessing, but I know it was a lot for them. So we are taking a day, and just celebrating it together. A few weeks ago we also held a sold-out drive-in concert which was also pretty amazing. It was our first community outreach event, and now we have people gearing up for the next.
Opening a Black Business is an entirely different experience than opening any other business. In short, did you face any discrimination or unjust treatment while preparing to open your business? Did you receive any support for your business?
This ties into the other two questions above. I faced discrimination and unjust treatment because I’m a female. Working in this world of dealing with contractors, and plumbers, and electricians, and architects, it’s pretty much a male-dominated world. The only time I would talk to a female is when I am conversing with the secretaries of these people. I remember once being in my store, and my contractor was there, and a city worker walked in just to inform us of the water lines being distributed in the future, and he walked right past me in my black button-up cashmere dress, and heels, and walked straight to the only man in the store, so that he could inform the person in charge of the disruption. When he learned it was me who was in charge, he apologized profusely, he claimed I was just so young, he didn’t even think I could be the owner. And this is just one situation. It was endless. I even got my male friends to set up quotes for me because I proved that one specific company quoted me a price for a glass install, but quoted my friend $700 less for the same measurements, material, and labour. It was wild. On the other hand, support has also been endless. Opening up a Black-owned business during this support-Black-business era is beautiful. Most people of colour come in to initially support, and then it’s like wow, this food is amazing, and then it’s a constant thing. It’s no longer about me being Black-owned, it’s just about the amazing food. The support has been endless.
COVID-19 has created a difficult time for local store owners. What were some of your setbacks as the pandemic started to take effect? How has adjusting to the re-opening procedures been for you?
I know COVID-19 impacted a majority of businesses, it was literally unforeseeable. With my store launching in the midst of that, I didn’t have to worry about loss of sales or laying off employees, thankfully. The only setbacks I had really were the rise in prices of things, and the delay of things because the city was working from home, or material stores weren’t open. Therefore, I wouldn’t say that I experienced many setbacks because of the pandemic.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking about opening a business?
Talk to me! Haha! We live in this world where (I’m hoping) the older generation of business owners keep their stories of success and setbacks to themselves. How can anyone learn in a motivational way if we don’t try to teach them? My successes are meant to be your foundation. My setbacks are meant to be your avoidances. My advice would be to find a mentor, one who isn’t afraid to share, to teach, and to lend a hand when needed.
Dowdie’s restaurant has a mission to bring downtown Toronto flavour to the outskirts of the city. Honey is set on serving satisfying Southern comfort dishes to its consumers without the hassle of having to drive through congested, narrow downtown Toronto streets.
To keep up to date about Honey or for more information, check out Dowdie’s Instagram page.
Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity.