Janell Richmond worked 10 years to finally open her first storefront. In November 2019, Eméché Cakery & Cafe opened in Bronzeville, a historic Black neighborhood in Chicago. Janell couldn’t have possibly known that one month later a virus would originate in China and threaten to destroy in a matter of months, what took 10 years to build. Although patrons are no longer allowed to dine in, Janell is still taking orders and hoping to weather the storm. 10 years is a long time and Janell is determined to stay open, come hell or high water.
Eméché is the sort of establishment that Black neighborhoods sorely crave, need and now it has: for now. Before the shutdown, customers came to sit down, catch up with friends, do business or just enjoy a pastry: things Black consumers have always desired to do in their own community. Revenue was growing each week and Janell was about to launch a new markeing program. Today, however, the cafe is empty and the orders are sparse: business has declined over 35 percent. Eméché Cakery & Cafe is known for its infamous dessert jars, a variety of pastries (including vegan options), cheesecakes, cupcakes and breakfast sandwiches. Everything is made in house, with love and an obsession for authenticity. It’s a formula anyone would hate to lose.
When Janell started baking in 2011, alcohol-infused cupcakes were her specialty. Since then she’s grown as a culinary artist and an entrepreneur. Even so, she can’t control the weather or whip up vaccines to halt global pandemics. All she can do now is keep working, hoping and leaning on the community for support: she’s even resorted to raising money on GoFundMe. Janell is an extremely prideful person who never asks for help. To publicly appeal for assistance was very tough. Janell’s story, however, is typical: Black entrepreneurs all over the country are just hoping to survive. Federal and state relief will be slow and likely, incompatible to the particular needs of Black business owners. Ultimately, entrepreneurs like Janell can only look to the community for support, a community that is also desperately trying to hang on.
Janell still shows up each morning, as she always has. She still bakes and takes the orders, when they come. Despite her work ethic, her impressive baking skills and the attractive decor of her establishment, she literally has no control of her fate. Eméché, like thousands of other Black owned businesses across the country, will fold or flourish because of the will and determination of Black people to protect the economic foundation of the community and that is Black businesses.