While more attention has been paid to Black-owned businesses in recent years, they are still facing barriers, including lack of access to capital, training, technical services and marketing resources.
Local organizations have stepped up to provide assistance, but the businesses could always use more foot traffic from Columbus residents.
Here are 20 Black-owned businesses you should consider supporting today.
The Que Studio, 1278 E. Main St., Olde Towne East
Need to book an event space? Consider The Que Studio, a 1,500-square-foot, rustic, natural light space that is quickly becoming a go-to venue for photographers, podcasters, event planners and other creatives in Columbus.
Owner Jasmine Lawrence also has opened Que’s doors to the neighborhood through bookbag drives and other events.
She said it’s important for young people to see artists in the space.
“I feel like this job was not offered to me growing up,” she said. “Everything that was offered to me was like nurse, lawyer, doctor. It was never creative. So, for them to see that is so essential.”
Lifestyle Cafe, 891 Oak St., Olde Towne East
Core to Lifestyle Cafe’s culture is that it offers 100% vegan menu items, including egg and cheese melts, BLTs and buffalo chicken balls all made to order.
Owner Shanna Dean strives to offer items that are familiar to people.
“When I cook at home, I want to have a pleasurable experience, so I lean on the spices and the flavors that made traditional foods appealing,” she said. “It’s worked so far.”
Westerville brothers Talan and Taron Taylor have become a hit at makers markets with Huckstle—their line of beard balms, beard oils, mustache wax and soaps. The branding may be a play on the snake-oil salesmen, or “hucksters” of yesteryear, but there is nothing devious about their inventory.
The products are crafted to prevent dryness, itchiness and frizz while stimulating hair growth and shine. The items include natural ingredients and pleasant scents like citrus and pome, linen and lime, and pine and leaf.
While some family members argue too much to work together, the Taylors said it’s mostly smooth sailing for them.
“We have that strong bond,” Taron said. “We’re not just brothers, we’re friends.”
Mmelo Boutique Confections, 1900 Polaris Pkwy., Polaris
At Mmelo, the sweet treats and pastries are almost too beautiful to eat. Owner Michelle Allen is passionate about crafting unique and flavorful desserts that everyone can enjoy, including those who are looking for vegan, gluten-free or dairy-free options. We recommend trying the decadent teacakes.
Flavor 91, 5186 E. Main St., Whitehall
Opened in September 2016 by brother and sister Moses and Winta Hayelom and mother, Weini “Mom“ Abraha, the Whitehall restaurant’s specialty is burgers, made with Ohio-raised, grass-fed beef.
The “flavor” burger gets two shots of Ethiopian flavor, both in the spice mix and the house sauce while it’s garnished with pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion.
The flavor sauce gets a hit of honey and warming chile paste, and a vegan option is available.
Tonē Bekka, 400 W. Rich St., Franklinton
If you have to travel, you might as well do it in style with handmade leather travel bags and accessories from Columbus College of Art & Design graduate Jovanna Robinson. She creates colorful and durable tote bags, duffels, laptop bags, wallets and more. She has clutches and cosmetic bags that are enhanced with African Ankara prints — sourced from the continent — and others that are adorned with calf hair.
When she’s not shopping at the leather store or creating her products, she is providing sewing lessons to kids in her studio. She not only wants to make her mark in the fashion world, but pour into the generation while she’s at it.
Salai Kamara is passionate about sharing the beauty of African culture through her brand, The African Accent. Born in Sierra Leone, Kamara offers everything from gorgeous beaded earrings and handwoven throws to clutches and whipped shea hair butter.
Bake Me Happy, 106 E. Moler St., Merion Village
Customers can also find a Bake Me Happy shop in Dublin (North Market Bridge Park, 6750 Longshore Dr.).
In addition to offering heavenly treats like Oatmeal Creme Clouds, the beloved bakery has become a community center, advocating for small and minority-owned businesses.
Co-owner Letha Pugh is a local ambassador for Goldman Sachs’ One Million Black Women initiative, which will invest $10 billion to support Black women across the country. Bake Me Happy also hosted a discussion with Rep. Joyce Beatty about challenges for small businesses.
FishBurger, 1808 E. Livingston Ave., Driving Park
If you visit the Driving Park restaurant, you should probably order the FishBurger sandwich, which features fried salmon, a special drip sauce and a signature lemon wedge on top.
If that’s not your speed, check out the OG Fish Sandwich, featuring fried tilapia, the Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich and the Burger Burger — a combination of ground beef and brisket. The menu also includes Hand-Cut Nashville Nuggets and wings that can be enhanced with a variety of sauces.
With a following that is growing larger by the day, owners Demetrius Howard and Randy Keyes are hoping to make their mark in the neighborhood’s legacy of Black entrepreneurship.
Cheryl Williams named 86 & Norman after the year she was born and the street where she spent time with family growing up. To say she is passionate about helping women with their personal style is an understatement. The bold prints on her hip bags, wallets and plant pots will most certainly attract attention.
Regal Beauty, regalbeautyco.com
Sisters Dasha Tate and Deanna Jones made a splash when they opened one of very few Black-owned hair and beauty supply stores on East Main Street in Olde Towne East in February 2019. However, like many small businesses during the pandemic, they were forced to pivot to online sales only.
But that hasn’t diminished the women’s passion for providing natural hair care products for the community.
Deez Cookies, deezcookies.com
The name says it all; Deez Cookies is one of the most whimsical businesses around. Founded by Khadija Adams, the shop offers at least one monthly box set of cookies centered on a theme.
For example, back in March, Adams released “Who Run The World? The Women’s History Month Box,” highlighting trailblazing women, including local Black elder and community gardener Julialynne Walker.
Willis Beauty Supply, 1499 E. Livingston Ave., Driving Park
Operating for nearly 55 years, Willis Beauty Supply specializes in Black hair care products. The company has survived because of its strong relationships with long-term clients and savvy business decisions.
Owners and brothers James and Sherman Willis have always gotten along, accoring to James’ son Brian.
“They finish each other’s sentences,” said Brian Willis, 61, of Berwick. “They think alike. Sherman is a little more outgoing, but my dad is quite the character, too. The running joke is he’s in the wrong field. He should have been in comedy. Sherman’s the serious one, but he’s a talker. Those are two good teachers. They know a lot about business, a lot about life.”
Splendor Revival at The Little Light Collective, 3041 Indianola Ave.
Curator Katya Philmore puts love and passion into everything she makes, including caftans, jewelry and even perfume!
“We believe that every woman has a regal goddess within,” Philmore says in her manifesto. “We’ve learned grace and glamour aren’t all that complicated and there’s magic in small details.”
What the Waffle, 695 E. Long St., King-Lincoln/Bronzeville
This eatery was included on The Food Network’s 2018 “50 States of Waffles” list. Sure, you can order a plate of traditional, buttermilk Belgian waffles, but you should really try one of the signature sandwiches like The Waddy, which includes deep-friend chicken tenders and warm peach cobbler sauce.
The establishment is more than just a purveyor of scrumptiousness. The owner, Gayle Troy, helps young women aging out of the foster care system by hiring them and providing them with other resources.
Soul 2 Go, 1282 Essex Ave., Milo-Grogan
If you want Mexican in a bowl, you can go to Chipotle. Italian? Go to Piada. Now, you can get a gourmet soul food meal in a bowl at Soul 2 Go, which operates out of CloudKitchens, one of those fancy “ghost kitchens” for delivery-only services.
The owners are Kevin and Chef Will Hightower, who are siblings you may remember for creating Buns & Brews or running the now-closed Club Ice Downtown—or producing the film “Univited Guest.” They’ve done a lot and have overcome some challenging times. But for now, they’re focused on cooking up a mean bowl of buttermilk fried chicken breast with mac and cheese, greens and sweet potatoes.
Ujamaa Bookstore, 1499 E. Livingston Ave., Driving Park
The bookstore may share a space with Willis Beauty Supply, but it has its own charm and mission. It centers Black readers as the subject of their reality, according to owner Mustafaa Shabazz said. And its goal is to use literacy to build strong families in the Black community.
Ujamaa is one of few brick-and-mortar, Black-owned bookstores in the city and state. Nationwide estimates have hovered below 150.
“Our children need to be literate in who they are,” Shabazz said. “It’s simple. If you get the right kind of books in the kids’ hands at the right time, you’re going to change the society.”
Buckner & Sons Masonry, 2300 Sullivant Ave., Hilltop
The family-owned business has called the Hilltop home since 1989. It has had a hand in building everything from residential structures to school buildings to data centers. Some of its recognizable projects from recent years include the first phase of the Gravity project in Franklinton and apartment buildings in the Short North, such as Luxe 23, Jeffrey Park, Hubbard Park Place and Lincoln at Pearl.
“Our purpose in starting the company was not just to have employment for us to raise a family, but also for other families as well,” said Otis Jerome Buckner, who is the company president. “To make sure they have the opportunity for their children to go to school, buy homes, things of that nature. That was our goal.”
Trio Pharmacy, 1570 Cleveland Ave. Basement Level, Linden
This family-run business in Linden is known for its customer service. Owner Ijeoma Nnani keeps patrons laughing. She once threatened to dance with a customer until they cracked a smile.
“I tell all our staff that if we are on this side of the counter, we should count ourselves privileged,” Nnani said. “It’s not just the medicine you give but the way you give it.”
Trio Pharmacy stepped up during the pandemic, providing pop-up vaccinations for the community. The business also hosts an annual Free Food Fun Fitness Festival, and provides fresh produce to customers.
Elite National Building Services, 592 Hanford St., South Side
Denise Ransom was inspired to start her commercial cleaning business after following her architect father, Leon Ransom through, the buildings he designed. He was a well-known Columbus architect responsible for many local buildings, including the Christopher Inn, Ohio State University East Hospital and the Martin Luther King Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.
“This is a niche business,” Denise Ransom said of Elite National Building Services. “It wasn’t that I was just starting a cleaning business or some kind of consulting business. There are very few companies that focus primarily on construction final cleaning.”