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National Restaurant Association - Turning adversity into advantage

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Turning adversity into advantage

Adenah Bayoh is a woman to be reckoned with. A native of Liberia, she immigrated to the United States when civil war overtook her country. Despite challenges, the successful New Jersey-based IHOP franchisee does not subscribe to the school of hard knocks. Instead, she says take advantage of opportunity whenever it knocks.

When did you immigrate to America?

I was 12 years old when we literally fled in the middle of the night. Between the ages of 9 and 11, I lived in a refugee camp in Sierra Leone. My dad brought me here to continue my education, which had been interrupted for so long.

Was it easy to adapt to life here?

I adjusted well because I was open to my environment and the opportunities this country could afford me. When I found out school was free, I was so happy. And when I found out lunch was free, too, that was like icing on the cake. When I came here, I knew I would take advantage of any opportunity put in front of me. I was hungry for normalcy, to be around family and opportunity.

How did you get involved in the restaurant industry?

I started working at McDonald’s at age 13. When I was in the eighth grade, I walked into the store and asked the manager if he was hiring. He gave me an application, but then the restaurant got busy and he forgot about me. About two hours later, a busboy came out and I started helping him clean up. He went back and told the manager I’d helped him. The manager told me to come back the next day. That was really my introduction to the business.

Still, you ended up loving IHOP.

When I came to America, I lived in Newark, N.J. There was an IHOP in Elizabeth, a neighboring town, and I just loved going there. It was an experience of pure joy. Not because I was starving or anything, but because I really enjoyed the food. I hadn’t really ever had pancakes or eggs and bacon and sausage before. I would always bug my dad to take me there, and he did every time he wanted to reward me. When I went to college, there was an IHOP two blocks up the road, so the love affair continued. After college, the town I was living in didn’t have an IHOP. I kept thinking it would be nice to open one there. Then, the owner of the local diner decided to retire so I bought the restaurant and contacted IHOP. Here I am eight years later with the restaurant open and successful. Now I plan to continue to build. When you find a brand you love, you have to stick with it.

Where does your drive to excel come from?

It comes from my grandmother, who didn’t have a formal education but was able to build a strong business. She didn’t reap the benefits of her labor because of the war so I want her to live her dreams through me.

What’s the key to your success?

It’s the ability to complete any task, not leave anything undone. It’s my tenacity and ability to work, my appreciation of a strong work ethic. Give me a task and consider it done.

Do you have any mentors in the industry?

I look up to Julia Stewart, who leads our company, DineEquity. Every time I’m in a room with her, I just like to soak up the air. And having her as a female role model in this industry is so important. It lets me know that I, too, can give back and be a role model for someone else.

What are three pieces of advice you’d give to others starting out?

First, surround yourself with a strong team of experts and be open to their advice. Let them help you; you can’t do it all yourself. Second, be fully present during all of your experiences because you never know when you’ll need to call upon them to deal with a challenge. Lastly ‑ and I can’t emphasize this enough ‑ the value of customer service is so important. People will always remember how you make them feel. I drill into my staff the importance of respecting and catering to our customers. I also work to build trust where I do business. I don’t just run an IHOP, I invest in the community.

Pictured top right: IHOP franchisee Adenah Bayoh

Find out more about women in the restaurant industry at America Works Here

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