In Irvington, IHOP Owner Brightens the Holidays for Needy Families

BY JOE TYRRELL
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

 

 

 

Tough times often come down hardest at the holidays, but in Irvington, needy families got an unusual break, a free dinner at the local IHOP on Springfield Avenue.

About 300 people attended the festive event, the brainchild of franchise owner Adenah Bayoh. Although she picked up the costs, the Liberian immigrant downplayed suggestions that this was charity.

“I don’t consider this a handout, it’s a thank you to the community for supporting us,” Bayoh said.

While times are hard for many small businesses, Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith said the township has had unusual good fortune that some chain store franchise owners have become deeply involved in the community.

“The McDonald’s owned by the Quintana family are doing a toy giveaway,” he said, while Bayoh handed out turkeys before getting even more ambitious with the full-scale dinner.

“They realize that everyday citizens make them successful,” said Smith, who was one of the servers at Bayoh’s Dec. 19 dinner.

The crowd was “primarily moms with children who are not in a position to take their kids out to a restaurant,” Smith said. The program featured singers, Smith and others reading aloud, and a book giveaway for the children.

Since graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson, Bayoh has become a busy local entrepreneur, but she said her businesses are not all about the bottom line. She remembers fleeing her native Liberia as a girl during a civil war, with a neighbor pushing her grandmother in a wheelbarrow.

“The day I left, it was so disheartening,” she said. “I left so many people behind who would just die to be here.”

Separated from her parents, Bayoh spent two almost four years as a refugee in Sierra Leone before being reunited with them here. She arrived with an immigrant’s zeal to work and succeed, and her first job set her on a career path.

“When I was 13, I got a job at a McDonald’s and I loved it,” Bayoh said. “I was just so happy, I would wear my uniform all day at home.”

So it is unsurprising that at just 27 she became the only African-American woman running an IHOP in New Jersey, redeveloping the building for the restaurant.

Her success in the intervening seven years has made Bayoh even more protective of her adopted community. Her commitment ranges from making breakfast sandwiches for kids and sponsoring high school girls to their proms to providing health benefits for her 70 employees.

Closing the IHOP for a charity event meant going through an elaborate corporate approval process, but the result was especially gratifying, Bayoh said.

“Next year, I want to do a ‘feed the vets’ program,” she said. “There’s so many homeless vets right now in the country.”

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