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Profile: From Liberia, to IHOP, to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Adenah Bayoh hasn’t simply made the most of her opportunities, she’s created the opportunities to make the most of

adenah bayoh

Name: Adenah Bayoh

What she does: Bayoh serves on the small business and agriculture advisory council of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; runs the Irvington IHOP franchise; and is a partner in the township’s efforts to rebuild the former local hospital.

What it does: The 11-member council meets three times a year with its president, currently William Dudley, and other top officials of the regional Fed, which oversees policies and programs in New York, Puerto Rico, northern New Jersey, and southeastern Connecticut. Their discussions cover regional, national, and international economic trends and includes members’ observations on sales, employment, investment, borrowing, and costs.

How it happened: A Fed official reached out to her last year, Bayoh said, following a spate of publicity about her business success, community involvement, and personal story.

While she did not campaign for the post, Bayoh said she leapt at the opportunity. “As an entrepreneur operating in disadvantaged urban communities, I look forward to being a voice and an advocate for these communities as well as for other small business owners,” she said.

Where she’s coming from: Bayoh can recall playing “banker” as a child in her grandmother’s restaurant in Foya, Liberia. The country was founded on several colonies established by freed slaves and other blacks, with the support of prominent patrons in the United States and Britain. But like other Anglo-American colonies, Liberia marginalized its indigenous peoples. That led to a revolution in 1980, followed by two civil wars through much of the 1990s and into the early 21st century.

A narrow escape: As Liberia teetered, Bayoh’s parents made their way to America, but their homeland collapsed before they could bring Adenah. She remembers her flight to Sierra Leone, with a neighbor pushing her grandmother in a wheelbarrow.

*How she feels about America: “There’s no better country to be accepted in as an immigrant,” Bayoh said. She finally got here at age 13, and “opened myself to the culture,” she said. “I am an African-American, and that has enable me to maintain my heritage while embracing the opportunities.”

Fast food and more: As a teen in Newark, Bayoh got a job at McDonald’s, and loved everything about it, to the point of wearing her uniform at home. She also was thrilled at the chance to resume her education. “If I was sick and couldn’t go to school, I would cry,” she remembered. That zeal led her to Fairleigh Dickinson University. Not only did Bayoh get a degree in business management, but also she ran her own hair-styling business in addition to working part-time jobs.

Beyond banking: After graduating, Bayoh got a job at a bank. Within a year, she had saved enough to buy a house in Irvington, renting out the upper floors. Then she began investing in other properties. Former Mayor Wayne Smith recalled a casual conversation with the new local entrepreneur, telling her an International House of Pancakes would be a good fit for the business district.

The IHOP adventure: Bayoh took his words to heart, becoming the first African-American woman in New Jersey accepted into IHOP’s franchise program. But despite her background and growing real-estate portfolio, she had a hard time getting financing. Eventually, the chain helped her secure a loan. That paid off, as Bayoh quickly made her Springfield Avenue site into one of the top-grossing franchises in the Northeast. She also made it a center for the community, with events like free Christmas dinners for needy families, an idea she needed and got corporate clearance to start.

Bigger dreams: Among her continuing real-estate ventures, Bayoh plans to open another IHOP this year in Paterson, like Irvington a “deserving” but underserved community, she said. She’s scouting for future locations in Newark, Camden, and other urban areas. Back in Irvington, she is a partner in the planned $150 million redevelopment of the old hospital complex into a mix of housing and commercial space. She expects demolition to start in the spring.

A message for the Fed: The advisory council “can definitely have an impact,” Bayoh said. But she has a message for Fed officials that may not line up with what they have been hearing. “I want the Fed to know what it’s really like for a small business on Main Street, not just a Main Street, an urban corridor, to try to get access to credit.” At its November meeting, most council members reported “access to credit remains generally easy,” according to the minutes.

Where we are: “We’re definitely better off than where we were six years ago, but we’re not where we should be,” Bayoh said. Her first-hand experience should add weight to her concern that restrictive bank loan policies remain a key hurdle for many small businesses, she said. In this new era, many banks have done away with branch loan officers, “so you’re dealing with a teller or a manager,” not a credit specialist, she said.

Advice for others: “It’s one thing to get a seat at the table, but when you’re sitting there, you’d better know what you’re sitting there for.”

“What she does in her spare time: When she's not working or caring for her young family, "I work out," Bayoh said.

Latest hometown: Hackensack.

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