Ezell’s Famous Chicken co-founders created a Seattle conference to lift up Black entrepreneurs
Ezell’s Famous Chicken is a 36-year-old Seattle institution, beloved by Oprah and the Seattle Seahawks, with 18 locations around the Pacific Northwest.
“We opened the first location in Seattle across the street from Garfield High School, February 3rd, 1984,” said Lewis Rudd, co-founder, president, and CEO of Ezell’s. “I was at the ripe old age of 26.”
Rudd owns Ezell’s with his brother and sister, and now that they have years of success behind them, they’re focusing on helping other Black entrepreneurs. During the pandemic, Rudd watched many Black-owned businesses suffer or shutter.
“Being Black in business, I understand a lot of the challenges that Black entrepreneurs face,” said Rudd.
So he and his siblings launched an initiative.
“The R.U.B.B. Initiative: Raising Up Black Businesses,” said Rudd. “There’s a stat out there that says only 2.4% of businesses are owned by African Americans.”
The initiative was launched with some well-timed funding.
“DoorDash was looking to do a promotional campaign with Ezell’s,” said Rudd. “And it was going to amount to about $40,000. I asked if I could divert those funds to more needed businesses in the community. There were other partners like Cisco and Pepsi and we raised over $110,000 to support Black-owned businesses. We gave out grants to 20 businesses last year, and we’re going to do more grants this year. And out of that process of receiving the applications, it was very clear that not only did the businesses need access to capital, they also needed access to information, which led to this year’s idea around the Black Business Leadership Conference.”
The Black Business Leadership Conference is this Saturday in Seattle, in honor of August being National Black Business Month.
“An opportunity to promote and inspire young Black entrepreneurs and small Black business owners and help them with what it takes to structure that business for growth,” said Rudd. “We’ll have attorneys there, talk about why it’s important to have everything documented and signed. Too many times, the handshake takes place. It’ll be information on marketing and branding, what types of insurance policies you should have. Create that generational wealth, businesses that you can pass on to your family members or be a benefit to others in the community by providing additional employment.”
Rudd says it took five years for a bank to give them a loan to open Ezell’s.
“One of the things that we learned, later on, was the redlining in the neighborhood we were in,” said Rudd. “It affected the ability for businesses in that community to get loans. There were no loans available if you lived in that zip code. The lack of access to capital. So, fast-forward to today, we want to remove as many barriers as we can. We want to acknowledge what happened in the past, but we want to focus on the future.”
Which is why the conference is tailored to Black business owners.
“It’s not an exclusive conference for Black business owners,” said Rudd. “However, the focus is on Black businesses. Too many times, I would go to conferences and I would be one of maybe three, four Black people there. Maybe two of us were business owners. I’m not walking around bitter and angry about it, I’m walking around saying, ‘How can I do something about it?'”
The conference was purposefully kept affordable: $65 to attend in person, $25 for a virtual ticket and scholarships are still available.
“A lot of problems are solved through growing Black-owned businesses,” said Rudd. “Opportunities for higher education, better health care, moving away from renting to owning. All these are benefits to being in business.”
Click here to register for the conference.
- Tune in to KIRO Newsradio on weekdays to hear Rachel Belle.
- Rachel Belle hosts the James Beard Award nominated podcast Your Last Meal and she's an Edward R Murrow award winning feature reporter. Follow Rachel on Instagram.