"A conduit of culture"

"A conduit of culture"

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Contributors:

Emily Bednarz and Josh Creighton

Celebrating Black entrepreneurs in Halifax

Every February, Nova Scotians celebrate African Heritage Month. This year’s theme is Through our Eyes: The Voices of African Nova Scotians. To honour, recognize, and celebrate our vibrant Black entrepreneurship community and this year’s theme, we sat down with three businesses for the 2022 February issue of Business Voice.

Josh Creighton, Community Engagement Specialist with the Halifax Chamber recommended three outstanding businesses owned by Black entrepreneurs in Halifax: R&B Kitchen, Natural Butter Bar, and Blue Nile Massage & Wellness. Discover their stories below!

All photos are contributed.

R&B Kitchen

rnbkitchen.com
IG: @rnbkitchen902

“R&B Kitchen is a conduit of displaying our culture through food to the broader Halifax community, to bring authentic African Nova Scotian cuisine to the mainstream market. It's huge for our culture not only in the province, but across the country, because African Nova Scotians are a unique population compared to other Black populations in Canada. We've been here for quite a long time. That's one of the reasons why I love R&B Kitchen, and also...the food is amazing.”
— Josh Creighton, Community Engagement Specialist

R&B Kitchen serves up Caribbean inspired soul food, one unique plate at a time. The restaurant has no fixed menu, instead posting a new menu every day to their social media channels. Their creative and inspired approach to soul food has made waves in Halifax.

“I wish I could take all the credit,” says co-owner Nevell Provo. “But it's a perfect storm of different people with a passion for food, music, and R&B culture.” Provo credits co-owner and Head Chef Raemiah, his girlfriend, as the spark that inspired the business. “Chef Raemiah spent a lot of time in culinary school, going to school in Italy, and working in high-level restaurants in Toronto. Her passion for food is the catalyst that got us started and brings our creativity to life.”

On top of that, Provo and his brother Corvell, who is also a co-owner, share a passion and love for food. Provo fell in love with Caribbean food in Ontario, and barbecue soul food in Southern USA. “We really wanted to see that exist here in Halifax,” he says. “And we finally had the opportunity to bring it to life with the help of Chef Raemiah.”

R&B Kitchen was founded on the new, daily menu. “It started naturally,” says Provo. “We started out making plates for people — one day we had one meal and the next day we had another. We didn't really think of it as a business. We just wanted to make good food.” Word spread quickly and soon the R&B staff had a hit on their hands. They were now cooking up new menus every day for hundreds of patrons. “We got a couple years in, and we were like: ‘shoot, how do we keep bringing in new meals? How do we keep people excited and engaged?’ That's a challenge for us, but it's also a place where we let our creativity shine.”

The team sources inspiration from fusions (jerk chicken souvlaki, anyone?) and online sources, like TikTok and Instagram. “We'll go into different nooks and crannies of the internet to find cool meals that people are bringing together,” says Provo. “It's an art, and Chef Raemiah relishes in that. She gets joy out of bringing new ideas and new meals to life.” Navigating the logistics in creating a new daily menu is a challenge, says Provo. “But it's an opportunity, and it’s a way for us to shine.”

The team has overcome challenges beyond the daily menu. R&B Kitchen opened its doors in February 2020. That’s right: February. 2020. “Starting a business during that time, who would have known?” says Provo. “Working through all of that — closures, openings, uncertainty, mandates — added a whole new layer of complexity. Then, you have the challenges of being an entrepreneur in general. And the challenge of being Black entrepreneurs is a challenge in itself.”

Championing Black entrepreneurship has become a focal point for the team at R&B Kitchen. “A big part of our ‘why,’ apart from serving delicious meals, is being a beacon for Black entrepreneurship in Halifax,” says Provo. Over the past two years, the team has focused on hiring youth; they have been able to give ten Black youths their first job and new resumes are dropped off every day.

Black youth seeking employment might be intimidated when applying for jobs, given Nova Scotia’s long history with racism, says Provo. But the restaurant is known as a safe and approachable space. “For them to see people that look like them in the interview, to not worry about how they speak or how they look because they know ‘these are people that identify with me’ — those things really resonate,” says Provo. “Some of these youths have gone on to start their own businesses, which is very rewarding to see. It just shows us that we're really doing what we set out to do.”

Support is the key to success at R&B Kitchen. “What keeps us pushing is the family-based structure we have,” says Provo. “All four co-owners are family: my Mom, Chef Raemiah, and my brother Corvell. We have each other's backs.” Provo also credits the staff at R&B Kitchen, 90% of whom represent the Black community. "Our staff helps us carry the load, and we work through everything together.” Finally, Provo recognizes the support from the broader Halifax community. “Halifax is one of the best places to start a business. There's a real rally around a local business, and that's a testament to the community we’ve built here. We're happy to be here and continue to grow here."

Natural Butter Bar

naturalbutterbar.com
IG: @naturalbutterbar

"Natural Butter Bar holds a special place in my heart because, like most folks of colour and specifically Black people, hair is something that is sacred to us. It makes us who we are, and it has traditionally been deemed as unprofessional or unattractive. It's so important that as Black people, we celebrate our natural attributes. Natural Butter Bar is all about promoting that, and teaching folks like me with different hair textures. Tiffani also offers consultations, which is amazing because for the longest time, I didn't know what to put in my hair. She's such an expert in her field, and she works to destigmatize natural hair, and natural Black hair in particular. Just to know that someone like Tiffani is out there to help folks understand their natural attributes and give them confidence—that's huge.”
— Josh Creighton, Community Engagement Specialist

In December 2020, Tiffani Young turned her passion for self-acceptance and her savvy for skin and hair products into Natural Butter Bar.

Born and raised in the Maritimes, Young was familiar with the challenge of finding the right products for her hair and skin. “I would go into big name stores, small name stores, specialized stores, and the things that I was hoping to find I couldn't,” says Young. “When I travelled to Ontario or Montreal, I would stock up on hair products. It's better now than it used to be, but growing up, it was very, very challenging.”

Young started making products for herself. Sourcing natural ingredients could be difficult and costly, and it took some experimenting. “As I started caring for my hair naturally, because I used to chemically process it, I had to learn a lot through trial and error,” she says. But once Young discovered what worked for her, others began taking notice. “I found the right ingredients and the right products for my hair, and I started getting compliments and questions from strangers.”

Young’s husband was the first person to suggest she turn her knowledge into a business. “My husband had the idea first,” she says. “He was like: ‘there's obviously a gap here.’” Initially, Young brushed the idea aside. “Some of the initial challenges that I faced were because of my own self-doubt,” she says. “I have no background in business. My background isn't even in biology or chemistry. The challenge was getting out of my own way and seeing that I do have something to bring to the table.”

The more people approached her with questions, the more she became convinced she had something to offer. The key was being able to customize the product to the person. “It was really important for me to create a line that people could customize for their individual needs,” she says. “Because I knew exactly what it felt like to be that person that was left out of the equation.”

Young individualizes her approach through free consultations. “I understand that it can be overwhelming, especially if you're not used to spending a lot of time on your haircare and skincare routines,” she says. “Sometimes people are completely new to this world. Then, I have customers who, like myself, used to chemically relax their hair. They're now learning what their natural hair texture is like, and they have no clue what their hair needs.”

In her consultations, Young asks questions and unpacks your options. “We want people to feel in control of their routines and be able to make informed decisions,” she says. “It's one thing to have a great product, but if people don't know how to use it, then they're not going to be able to maximize the benefits of that product.”

Building connections with her customers is the most rewarding part of owning Natural Butter Bar for Young. “In the Black hair community, especially if you're dealing with natural hair, ‘wash day’ is that one day that you either love or hate,” she says. “I have one customer who has triplet daughters, all with long, all-natural hair.” When the customer reached out, Young recommended aloe vera gel for conditioning and detangling. “She messaged me immediately after ‘wash day’ for her girls,” says Young. The customer used to spend 45 minutes per child detangling hair. With Young’s product, it now only takes her 15 minutes per child. “I myself was blown away,” says Young. “I thought: how much more enjoyable must that be for both her and her daughters? I thought about how much time she was getting back just by implementing one of our products.”

Young is passionate about personalizing the experience for all customers. Natural Butter Bar offers Braille labels upon request for people within the visually impaired community. “Those customers were shocked that was even an option,” says Young. “They said for the first time, they felt seen — they felt like they could have access to a product they could easily use on their own.”

Young is currently working on new products, like accessories and all-natural soap, shampoo, and conditioner. Regardless of the product, Young works to ensure there’s something for everyone at Natural Butter Bar. “We value diversity and inclusion, and so we aim to create products that are for everyone, but also for groups that typically get excluded. We're here to help people learn and to fall more in love with the skin they're in and the kink in their hair.”

Blue Nile Massage & Wellness

bluenilemassagetherapy.com
IG: @bluenile.massage.wellness

“Blue Nile is a really interesting business because for Black folks, and for people in general, we have issues connecting with our body. Fantanesh helps you be more mindful about what you do on an everyday basis to take care of your mental and physical health. I think this is something in the Black community we need to prioritize. Giving Blue Nile more exposure is something that’s important to me because it helps spread her message to help our community live healthier, happier, more energetic, liberating lives.”
— Josh Creighton, Community Engagement Specialist

Fantanesh Attomsa opened Blue Nile Massage & Wellness after noticing a lack of representation in the spa and wellness industry locally—and she wanted to change that. Since opening in 2019, she continues to be motivated by the creative freedom she has in her business. Having full control of her brand and practices helps her to connect with clientele in an authentic and individualized way. “Each treatment can be a little different depending on the client’s needs,” says Attomsa. “I consider massage therapy and healing an art.”

Attomsa chose Blue Nile as the name for her business for two reasons: her love of the healing properties of water and her homeland, Ethiopia. “If I couldn't open my business in Ethiopia (yet), I am so happy to have done it in Halifax,” she says. “We are surrounded by such beautiful bodies of water here. The saltwater and beautiful lakes are a natural inspiration for me and hold so many healing properties.” Attomsa plans to include hydrotherapy services at Blue Nile in the future.

Like so many businesses in Halifax, Attomsa faced significant challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly since Blue Nile focuses on commission-based, in-person services. “It was definitely scary at times,” says Attomsa. “But I think, like most entrepreneurs, you learn to adapt and find ways to make the best of it.” Attomsa used the time to engage and grow her online community, developing online workshops, guides, and courses to build authentic relationships with her “online family.” Her efforts to build these connections have paid off. “I think a lot of us needed that sense of community during isolation, even if it was just virtually,” she says.

One resource you can find on the Blue Nile website is the 90 Day Abundance Planner. “It's a planner for busy women with goals, dreams, and to-do lists who feel like they need a little guidance and organization in their day,” says Attomsa. “It is full of daily affirmations, weekly journaling prompts, and daily themes to help you live your most abundant life. It's already helped so many women who really want it all and don't want to have to choose.”

Attomsa builds connections, one client at a time, and her efforts have resulted in incredible breakthroughs. Clients have approached her with issues related to sleep and persistent headaches. “I offer them weekly treatments,” says Attomsa. “Sometimes it feels like one step forward and two steps back. Then, finally, after the fifth week, they come in crying because they haven't had a headache and they have slept comfortably for the first time in months.”

Helping her clients reach these breakthroughs is what motivates Attomsa. “It always inspires me—the dedication my clients have to their own health,” she says. “It can be easy to get frustrated and give up. But they trust me and trust the process. They do the homecare recommendations and follow up on referrals, and I feel truly honored to be a part of that process.”

If you take away one thing about Blue Nile Massage & Wellness, it’s this: “I want everyone to know wellness is accessible to everyone,” says Attomsa. “You don't need to do hours of yoga, exercise, or meditation a week to experience wellness. If you can commit ten minutes a day or one hour a week to yourself, whether that's reading or book or going for a walk, you deserve that for yourself. I am a big believer in not complicating people's lives — I like to encourage simple things that you can already incorporate into your routine so that it can actually be sustainable. I want you to feel empowered to take control of your health.” ■

Learn more about African Heritage Month and upcoming activities at:

ansa.novascotia.ca/african-heritage-month

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