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Friday June 24th

It’s all about the dream: Minority-owned businesses break barriers in Chapel Hill

Spring Council, daughter of Mildred "Mama Dip" Council, talks about what it's like to be a minority business owner at Mama Dip's Kitchen on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.
Buy Photos Spring Council, daughter of Mildred "Mama Dip" Council, talks about what it's like to be a minority business owner at Mama Dip's Kitchen on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

Mildred Council walked out of a bank on Franklin Street. A loan officer had just denied her request for money to invest in opening a restaurant. She walked back into the bank through a different door and sat down with another officer. The second officer saw what the first didn't, and she got the loan.

Council opened Mama Dip’s Kitchen in 1976 with the help of her daughter, Spring Council. The restaurant started with Mildred as the only cook and Spring as the only waitress. Today, the business employs 25 people.

Chapel Hill’s percentage of minority-owned businesses is lower than that of the county, the state and the country. As of July 1, 2017, 31.6 percent of Chapel Hill's population identified as a minority, compared to North Carolina's 36.9 percent. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 State of the Community Report listed 13.7 percent of businesses in Chapel Hill as minority-owned, compared to the state's 22.8 percent.

But the minority-owned businesses that do exist aren't letting that stop them.

Starting from the bottom 

Despite setbacks, Council said her mother, who recently passed away, didn’t give up on owning a restaurant.

“If you have a dream and you see that in front of you, just work toward that,” Council said.

Jamil Kadoura, owner of Mediterranean Deli, has a similar story.

He was born in Palestine, but had to move to a refugee camp near Jerusalem due to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. He immigrated to Minneapolis in 1982, where he walked from restaurant to restaurant in freezing temperatures begging for a job.

He finally convinced a Scandinavian chef to hire him as a dishwasher.

“You have no idea how happy I was for this simple thing,” Kadoura said. “I just wanted to eat and pay my rent.”

Kadoura eventually moved up the ranks and got hired to work in hotel restaurants, which brought him to the Triangle area.

Even while getting promotions, Kadoura said he never forgot where he came from.

“When you come as a minority to this country, you’re hungry," he said. "Hungry for things that people here take for granted."

Both Kadoura and Council agreed minorities face challenges in securing finances to start businesses.

When Mildred Council started Mama Dip’s, she bought just enough ingredients to get her through breakfast. Then, she would buy ingredients for lunch, only able to afford one meal at a time.

Kadoura and his wife, Angela, started with their savings of $16,000. After paying for rent, basic utensils and six tables, Kadoura had no money to buy good ventilation or air conditioning.

He fried his falafel outside the back of the deli and brought it inside at lunchtime. Chickpeas take hours to boil before they can be made into hummus, so Kadoura would boil them in his one bedroom apartment and take them to work in the morning.

Now, he ensures employees don't waste anything.

“Where I come from, we got water on Tuesday in a tank on top of our roof. If we run out of water before the next Tuesday, then we don’t have water,” Kadoura said. “They just don’t see the little things.”

'This was the time' 

In October, First Baptist Church of Chapel Hill held their first annual Black Business Expo to help minority business owners gain exposure in the community.

Rodney Coleman, senior pastor of First Baptist, said part of the challenge of starting a business in Chapel Hill is the compact nature of the town.

“When you have a concentrated, landlocked area, it drives up pricing in terms of rent,” Coleman said. “It’s problematic for small African-American businesses to even find space, and then get past the threshold and cover expenses.”

Steve Drake, chairperson of FBC’s community action and political awareness ministry, said the expo mainly aimed to give Black-owned businesses a platform.

“I think that if there was a mechanism in place to make sure the businesses get some sort of advertising and support, that some of those businesses would not just survive but even thrive,” Drake said.

Coleman and Drake have worked with their church and community to create a Black Business Directory for Orange County.

First Baptist Church Chapel Hill maintains a directory of Black businesses in Orange County.

The expo was a first for Chapel Hill, though similar events had taken place in other areas.

“This was the time," Drake said. "We saw a lot of business owners trying to do different things, and it was time to bring them all together."

Coleman and Drake were both surprised by the large turnout, which included high school students, and the collaborative atmosphere that was created.

“There are some extremely talented individuals who have great products and insights,” Coleman said. “We have to create that space to give them the opportunity to display their services.”

Mildred Council grew up on a farm in the area, which gave her a hard working spirit, her daughter said.

“She grew up in an era where you really have to work for what you’ve got,” Spring Council said. “The tough life she lived, that’s what gave her the strength to keep going in business.”

Kadoura said his background gave him the fuel to keep going.

“I think struggling in life makes it better. It makes you a better person because you appreciate more,” he said.

Kadoura and Council said the Chapel Hill community has a good nature. Neither experienced discrimination from customers or thought being a minority hurt their business.

Council felt her work ethic was more important than her skin color.

“We’re just people in business, I don’t look at the black/white issue of it,” Council said. “We just came into business and worked hard.”

Kadoura said he’s personally experienced racial discrimination before, but he’s never let it hurt his spirit.

“Discrimination is there, we can’t deny it,” Kadoura said. “You feel it, but don’t let it stop you. That’s when you put boundaries around yourself.”

He thinks the Town and state could do more to help minority businesses succeed.

“Banks are always nervous, but I don’t see why towns don’t partner with more minority businesses,” he said. “I don’t think we are doing enough right now.”

@laura_brummett

city@dailytarheel.com

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