The Business of Running a Black-Owned Business


A small business owner wears many hats, and running a small restaurant is like running a retail store, a call center, and a factory in one. A person has to surround themselves with the right people, keep a serious mindset with extra cash on hand for unseen pitfalls, and be aware that no matter how dazzling a dream maybe, they are going to have to put in the real world work to make it a reality. In other words, it has to be more than just a dream to you. You have to do it for the love and you have to love what you are doing.

Wiley’s Seafood Kitchen at 2302 Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. in North Chicago, Illinois is a family owned seafood restaurant located in the heart of Lake County, Illinois. It may have started as a dream, but it is a reality. The food is delicious, homemade, and the service is friendly. But, the area is surrounded by multi-franchise restaurants with cheap dollar menu deals. I wondered what kind of expectations the owner had when Wiley’s Seafood Kitchen was only an idea on paper or in the back of the owner’s mind.

A great man once said that success is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration. Now, it takes more than brains to run your own business; it takes a lot of hard work. So I set up an interview with the owners of Wiley’s for Saturday, July 9, 2016 at 3:00 pm so they could tell their story.

The husband and wife team of Keyana and Wesley Wiley (both co-owners and chefs) were more than willing to let Entrepreneurs of Color Magazine in and they gave me an earful about the reality of running a business, and what I learned was you have to crawl before you walk with any endeavor, and you have to do it for the love.

JNHARRIS: What is it like having a working family owned business with your name on it? How blessed is that?

Wesley Wiley: Where do I start? I mean, it’s like every time I ride pass here, or every time I hear someone say Wiley’s, it’s a sense of fulfillment that I can’t explain. You know, something that I can leave my kids and to be able to create a job for me and my wife is like, what’s the right word—astounding! It’s like I can’t even fathom, I mean it really feels like a dream. Because like last year this time, we were selling seafood out of our house. We literally started out of our house. We just went out on a limb, we trusted ourselves enough. Even the day before we opened, we would look at each other like, ‘What the heck are we doing?’ ‘Are we really about to open a restaurant tomorrow?’ So, we were freaking out! Because we basically started with a dream and essentially you could say we turned something we saw in our heads into a reality.

JNHARRIS: What expectations did you have about opening this restaurant in your community?

Keyana Wiley: We kind of worried about those expectations because we are dealing with seafood and it is an essential type of food. But we are dealing with North Chicago and you have to adapt your environment. North Chicago is not a big city where people are wealthy. You know, you have people who can’t afford seafood. So, that is the reason why we took that into consideration as well as coming with other meals and other things that can be cheaper, and sometimes we may come up with specials that may deal with seafood. Because we want everyone to be able to try Wiley’s, we don’t want any to feel singled out. And we did expect to have a lot of support. And it was a good thing that we started from home. From us starting out of our house, we built such a big clientele. At first it was a little weary, and some may knock it because it is North Chicago and it is mostly blacks that live in this city. But, one thing I will say, this city has really supported Wiley’s Seafood. They have really, really supported us. And we just expected love, support because we give so much love out and we give so much support back and we take everyone into consideration. If you are allergic to seafood, we have other things on the menu and if you can’t afford seafood we have other things you can afford.

Wesley Wiley: For me, I expected exactly what happened. We got 100% support from our community. It’s like they watched our baby blossom with us. We grew together. So, in a sense, the whole community had in on this. We are all growing together. And we have other entrepreneurial friends—it’s like a co-opt, in a sense. WE support each other. We pretty much got exactly what we expected. We show love and respect to everybody and we get it in return.

JNHARRIS: In your words, how important is it for Black people to buy Black even if it means spending more?

Wesley Wiley: Ok, it’s very important. Not because I’m a black business owner, but even before I was a black business owner. It’s important because that Black dollar is very important in the United States and we don’t spend it with each other.You know, people walk around with different clothes and they want to go Red Lobster; you want to do everything that has nothing to do with us. We don’t support each enough. And when I say we, I don’t mean the community. I mean, like America, not the community. We don’t support each other enough. Because, we are kind of powerful. And I don’t want to make this a race thing, but Black people are powerful. And if we stick to together and come together and support each other, it’s like a force that’s unstoppable. You know, I wish that everybody could feel like that we wouldn’t have any violence or crime. When you realize how important and special you are as a person, as a woman or as a man, and you come together and support your own, we are unstoppable.

I agreed. It is imperative that we as a people invest in ourselves, get out of our comfort zones and invest in each other. I’m guilty, I’ll admit, of having low expectations and reservations of my own people, but when I look around at so many dreams deferred and so many old buildings in my area that for a short time were once thriving and Black owned, who do I have to blame? It was Wesley Wiley’s words that put this self-reflective question into a deeper context.

Wesley Wiley: I’m going to say this and this has nothing to do with the restaurant...this is my wife and I love and respect her. I’m going to show you and everybody else that when it comes to this woman (Keyana) I love and respect her. But, if I was to disrespect her, then I’m opening up the floodgates for everyone else to disrespect her. And when you think about it, that’s how it is with our race. When we disrespect each other, we open up the floodgates for everybody else to look at us crazy and call us monkeys or gorillas; thinking that we are up to know good. But, if we love and respect each other, they can’t disrespect us.

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