Sammie and Dennis Guy, the owners of First Sip Studios, understand firsthand the challenges facing black-owned businesses in Pittsburgh. According to a National Bureau of Economic Research report, minority-owned firms are disproportionately affected by systemic barriers, discrimination, and lack of access to capital.
Founded in the 1930s, the Crawford Grill was a legendary jazz club hosting some of the genre's biggest names. Despite its reputation as a premier jazz club, the Crawford Grill faced discrimination and harassment from law enforcement and politicians in the 1950s and 60s.
However, the story of the Crawford Grill is a reminder of the challenges black-owned businesses have faced and the need to support them to ensure their success in the present and future.
Source: Teenie Harris Photograph Collection, 1920-1970. Carnegie Museum of Art
Despite these challenges, Crawford Grill managed to survive and thrive. The club is essential to the civil rights movement, serving as a meeting place for local activists and leaders. It remained vital to Pittsburgh's African American cultural scene, hosting jazz performances and other events until its closure in the early 2000s.
Today, the Crawford Grill reminds us of the obstacles black-owned businesses face. Still, it also demonstrates the resilience and perseverance of the African American community in the face of adversity.
Fast Forward to Today
It is essential to know and honor the history of how today has come to be to appreciate the journey. Now let’s look at a couple of black-owned businesses we have had the privilege to know and grow alongside.
Meet Jamal and LaShesia, two Black entrepreneurs who have overcome challenges and barriers to create successful businesses in Pittsburgh. Their stories are a testament to the resilience and resourcefulness of the Black community in the face of adversity.
Meet Jamal - Uncle Jammy's
Jamal, the founder of Uncle Jammy's, has been through the trial-and-error process that defines many black entrepreneurs. The journey started way back in 2005. He worked at Red Lobster, and a Monday Night Football game inspired him to create the Area 51 sauce. Later on, working at Quaker Steak and Lube further inspired him and helped him get better at his craft. After moving to Pittsburgh, Jamal realized that he loved creating things and started his business to be creative.
Being a black-owned business in Pittsburgh, Jamal faced challenges like getting his foot in the door in some places and associating with certain social circles. However, the city of Pittsburgh has been proactive in putting programs together and extending opportunities to BIPOC and DBE businesses, and the community has been very supportive.
To foster relationships with customers and supporters, Uncle Jammy's relies on word of mouth and builds trust throughout the process. The business gives back to the local community by imparting knowledge to younger people and supporting diversity and inclusivity in the workplace and its customer offerings.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted Uncle Jammy's plan of expanding catering activities, but the business pivoted towards wholesale and started going outside Pittsburgh with Whole Foods’ regional store roster. The impact was significant but sustainable. The company is now pivoting back, focusing more on local retailers and high-end, quality ingredients, creating unique flavors.
For Jamal, Black History Month means paying respect to those who came before us, and he tries to inject some of his family's culture and heritage into his products. Jamal's journey is one of resilience, resourcefulness, and inclusion, and his business inspires other black entrepreneurs. He hopes to collaborate with other black creators in the future.
Meet LaShesia Holiday - Naptural Beauty Supply
LaShesia Holiday, the founder of Naptural Beauty Supply, started her all-natural hair and body care business inspired by her daughter Taylor, who was born severely premature alongside her stillborn brother. With a passion for finding natural hair care solutions, LaShesia began researching effective ingredients and eventually created the Holy Grail Oil. Frustrated with the lack of natural hair care products for the Black community, she founded Naptural Beauty Supply to provide a central location for all-natural hair and body care products.
As a Black-owned business, LaShesia faced many challenges in Pittsburgh, including difficulty obtaining loans and seeing a need for thriving businesses in the area. However, she found strength in building a community of fellow Black entrepreneurs and making meaningful connections.
The community has been a driving force in the success of Naptural Beauty Supply, with the brand growing through word-of-mouth recommendations and a Facebook group called The Naptural Community. The business also gives back to the community through workshops on Black Natural Hair and the Butta Bar Experience, a self-care workshop aimed at helping people create routine and personalized products.
LaShesia has faced many challenges as a Black entrepreneur, including the pandemic and personal tragedies. Despite these obstacles, she holds on to her faith in God and has successfully adapted her business to an online model while still meeting the increasing demand for her products.
Black History Month holds significant meaning for LaShesia, as she believes she makes Black history with every jar of her all-natural products. She is proud to be making changes in the Black Beauty Industry and prioritizes diversity and inclusivity in her workplace and customer offerings. Naptural Beauty Supply is expanding its reach and plans to increase its footprint in larger stores.
Sammie and Dennis are the co-founders of First Sip Studios, a Veteran, Black and Woman-owned small business in Pittsburgh. They strongly support small businesses and have developed the SYP Share Your Purpose program to assist small, disadvantaged businesses in low-income areas. In addition to her work at First Sip Studios, Sammie is a basketball coach and a former social worker for over a decade. Dennis has a strong sense of purpose and desire to give back to his community, having grown up in a single-parent household and served in the US Army. Together, their passion for visual storytelling and dedication to helping others has allowed them to build a successful business that positively impacts their community.