By Praveen Kosuri
The steel bars on the windows obscured any view of the deli and meat store within. If you were walking down the sidewalk, those bars wouldn’t stand out. The building just to the north is boarded up. The one to the south has identical bars on its windows. There isn’t a lot of foot traffic in this part of Chicago. There is a group of people that hang out in front of the liquor store two doors down, but they tend to keep people away, not attract them. There aren’t a lot of offices or factories, no real lunch crowd at all. Why would anyone want to open a store in this environment? That is the question our clients—Little Kizzie and Ashley Avery—confronted, just like so many of our clients who look to start new enterprises on Chicago’s tough streets.
But the entrepreneurial drive cannot be repressed.
K&R Halal Meats (the store founded by Little Kizzie and Ashley) opened in 2002. The Averys had to move into this location two years ago when they were forced out of their old site by a redevelopment project. By the Averys’ own admission, the new location was not in the best neighborhood, but it was one of the few places where they could find both affordable rent and the space they required. Additionally, their landlord made several helpful concessions as incentives for them to take the space.
K&R, which stands for Kindness and Righteousness, took this as a sign. And with more of the business coming from catering and large meat orders than from deli and walk-in sales, the location seemed less of an impediment.
That all changed, however, when their landlord died. Her family members were not as understanding. In fact, they were not at all interested in helping the Averys. Harassment, badgering and threats caused them to move once again.
But still they persisted.
They took the opportunity to rejuvenate their business and try to avoid some of the problems they had encountered. They worked with the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship and with Hull House—a non-profit designed to provide business planning and strategy advice to inner-city entrepreneurs. Building on another relationship they had cultivated, K&R was invited to present to Aramark (one of the country’s largest food service companies) for the opportunity to provide lunches at the University of Illinois-Chicago. But two days before the presentation, the unthinkable happened. The foster son of Little Kizzie—a boy that she had raised since he was three years old and whom her own children thought of as a brother—was shot to death.
I, of course, assumed that we would have to postpone the meeting. I told Little Kizzie that I was happy to make the call to Aramark.
But to Little Kizzie, cancelling was not an option. She viewed this tragedy as a test of how badly they wanted their business to succeed. Little Kizzie wanted the opportunity to compete—to fulfill her dream. A poor location, a bad neighborhood, an unscrupulous landlord or even a family tragedy would not deter her. That perseverance epitomizes the entrepreneurial spirit that transforms individuals, entrepreneurs, their employees, customers and communities.
We all know about the irrational licensing schemes and endless red tape that entrepreneurs must overcome to have a chance to succeed. That challenge is enough to discourage far too many small businesses, and is one of the reasons IJ helps entrepreneurs to succeed in that fight. The Averys’ story also serves as an illustration of the real-world obstacles so many of the IJ Clinic’s clients face, and underscores the desire and perseverance each displays in the pursuit of his or her dreams.
Praveen Kosuri is assistant director of the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship at The University of Chicago Law School.