Since opening her test preparation business in 2011, Sheba Brown has worked to expand college access to underserved communities in the Triangle area.
Brown, who completed both her bachelor's and master's degrees at UNC, works to ensure that students have the resources they need to pursue their academic goals through her business, APlus Test Prep.
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“Our goal is to widen college access to students, particularly those who may be from underrepresented groups, as I am,” she said.
APlus Test Prep offers a variety of services to students, including SAT and ACT preparation and tutoring, classes to help teachers earn their licensure, GRE and LSAT preparation, proctoring for exams, tutoring for academic subjects and other types of academic support.
Black-owned businesses like Brown's APlus Test Prep have been offering unique services and filling community needs for years.
'This community of folks'
Yah-i Sinclair and his wife also founded their business with a focus of serving the community — but in a more literal sense.
The Sinclairs own Vegan Flava Cafe, a business that serves and caters vegan food.
As a vegan himself, Sinclair found that his food options were limited — especially at social events.
“We would always bring our own food because as vegans, we would know that we would be underserved,” he said. “We would go to events and there was always hot dogs and french fries and frankfurters.”
Though they had made a commitment to a healthy lifestyle themselves, the couple noticed that there were others who wanted to eat better but didn’t like the options available.
Their desire to share recipes led to the creation of Vegan Flava Cafe. Although the cafe didn't open its first physical location until 2015, the business has been running since 2011.
It began as a mobile catering service and eventually upgraded to a food truck before opening up a storefront.
“We had this community of folks at these different events that were very diverse,” Sinclair said. “Anybody who wanted to eat better had an option — and they had an option that tasted great.”
Sinclair said the restaurant serves 100 percent plant-based, soy-free and gluten-free food. Most of the dishes are also oil-free, with an emphasis on providing organic and non-GMO ingredients. Vegan Flava Cafe's menu also features beverages, such as herbal sweet tea, West Indian sorrel beverages and a variety of fruit smoothies.
Britney Shalloway and her mother, Sharon Hilton noticed a similar gap in food services.
Shalloway noticed the opportunity to start a sweet delivery business when she moved to Chapel Hill to pursue her bachelor's degree.
“We noticed that there was a gap in providing these types of services and specialty treats for those individuals who don’t necessarily live in Chapel Hill or in Raleigh,” Shalloway said.
To bridge this gap, the duo decided to create Yumphoria just over a year ago. The boutique serves a variety of sweets like chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolate-covered Oreos and various types of Rice Krispie Treats.
The business has worked to increase access to these specialty treats for all communities.
“We lowered the price point to make it more affordable, and then we also expanded the opportunity by allowing that delivery option to underrepresented areas,” Shalloway said.
'Willing to try it'
Sinclair said that one of the biggest challenges that he has faced in encouraging people to come to the Vegan Flava Cafe is overcoming the connotations associated with the restaurant being vegan.
“Oftentimes, when people see the word ‘vegan,’ whatever thoughts they have that coincide with that, that will determine whether they will even be willing to try it,” he said.
Sinclair said that there have been times when people would turn around and avoid eating at the restaurant just because of the name. But, he said that once people give the food a try, their perception quickly changes.
“There are people who never liked kale that love our kale salad,” he said. “There are people who never liked quinoa who love the way I make the quinoa. So once I get them to taste it, we’re good.”
In addition, Sinclair started a program called ‘Being Better By Eating Better,’ which is designed to help people make better choices about what they eat. He said many people are deterred by the cost of eating vegan and eating healthier in general, which is what his program aims to combat.
“These same communities that are oftentimes underserved now have access to at least one resource — not just a restaurant, but a free resource,” he said.
Another challenge, Shalloway said, has been being a business-owner during the pandemic.
“We’ve primarily relied on preorders, so being able to actually have physical store hours has been a difficult situation for us, just because of the COVID regulations and the indoor dining,” she said.
However, with decreasing coronavirus case numbers and more relaxed pandemic restrictions, business has been on the rise. During the week before Valentine’s Day, Shalloway said there was a jump in orders from Yumphoria.
“You can imagine that we’ve been getting a lot of orders and the phone has been ringing off the hook,” she said.
‘A small cog in that bigger wheel’
Sinclair said that his favorite part of what he does is showing people how they can eat healthier.
“Anytime I’m preparing food at the restaurant, I feel great,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what else I’m doing. If I was tired, by the time I get to the kitchen, I’m ready to rock and roll.”
Brown shared this sentiment. She said this time of year is particularly exciting as students receive their acceptance letters to college.
“I’m glad to be able to say that APlus Test Prep was a small cog in that bigger wheel of that student moving toward what they want to do for their future,” she said.
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