After the city health inspector examined the downtown cafe after walking through the building’s front door, Carleen Goodridge pulled her son Elijah to hug him and cry.
For Goodridge, the journey to opening her own small business was “a journey and a half.” It’s a journey that has taken the Liberian-American entrepreneur from Texas to Baltimore, around the US and back to Charm City.
With the launch of The Stand, Goodridge will join a wave of black entrepreneurs, many of them women, opening a shop in the downtown business district and helping to revitalize the area at a time when other businesses are retreating and many restaurants have closed .
LaShauna Jones, owner of Sporty Dog Creations, sees businesses like hers bring new creativity to downtown and boost the local economy. “It’s something Baltimore needs,” she said.
Like her, many of the youngest business owners hail from Baltimore, who they feel are more ready to take on the city’s various challenges. And entrepreneurs like Goodridge have found a community of like-minded entrepreneurs here to help them navigate life’s ups and downs.
Goodridge, 44, founded her beverage company, Le Monade, in Baltimore in 2015. She also owns the hiking restaurant Col Bol, which serves Liberian dishes at pop-up events across the city. Although Goodridge was born in Staten Island, she grew up eating Liberian staples — jollof rice, fufu, and palm butter stew — and preparing those dishes for Col Bol.
Things were going well until the end of 2019. “I’ve done way too damn much,” she said. She hosted pop-ups and special events, and it took a physical toll. Despite being physically active for years, she suddenly had trouble walking. She found that she had to use a walking stick again and again. One day she couldn’t walk at all; Her son helped her back into bed.
After a few visits to the emergency room, a nutritionist helped her realize that her diet might play a role in triggering an autoimmune disease she was diagnosed years ago. She decided to take a break from the grind even before the pandemic closed restaurants.
And then she went on her way.
In 2020, Goodridge unpacked a burned out Fedex van that was converted into a hiker’s home with a kitchen and sleeping area. Along with her partner Shawn and son Elijah, she made it as far west as Colorado and south as Florida. Her son’s homeschooling classes took place outdoors. They camped in forests and on farms. “Anywhere where there were no people.”
You could still be on the road if it weren’t for a scary experience. In late 2020, while traveling through the Florida Everglades, Goodridge suffered what she believed to be a heart attack or even a stroke. It felt like time to come home.
As she recovered and reunited with friends in Baltimore, she realized that colleagues had not only made it through the pandemic, but had discovered ways to grow their businesses. At a women’s empowerment event hosted by H3irloom Food Group’s Tonya Thomas, entrepreneurs shared their pandemic focus and how they made it work. To see this kind of success from so many black business owners like her was inspiring. “We all say it was a night we all needed. That was motivating.”
Friends like Amanda Mack and Jasmine Norton had both opened new stalls at Whitehall Market in Hampden. Chef Catina Smith prepared the opening of Our Time Kitchen, a community kitchen in Old Goucher. It boiled down to, she said, “that sense of community that Baltimore carries,” Goodridge said. It filled her with the feeling that “it can be done”.
Goodridge signed a five-year lease for downtown space on the first floor of a historic apartment building at 211 St. Paul Place.
The neighborhood, Goodridge said, was formerly Preston Gardens, a home for black families before a so-called “slum clearance program” destroyed many homes in the 1930s.
Not far away, at Fells Point, some of their own ancestors left the United States on a ship bound for Liberia in the 18th century. Her great-grandfather, William VS Tubman, Liberia’s longest-serving President, is related to Harriet Tubman of Maryland.
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It’s stories like these that she’ll share with customers at The Stand as they stock up on mixers like Le Monade’s ‘Pretty Pretty’ or tuck into cassava chips and dips made from ‘butter pear’, the Liberian name for avocados. A small drink is a “pekin”, the Liberian word for a child, while a large drink is “small small”, which is a Liberian way of saying “a little more”.
She plans to offer many gluten-free options, especially given the discovery that gluten can contribute to flare-ups in her own immune system. A staple: rice bread as it was raised, made from ground rice and bananas. “Gluten-free, but amazing,” she said.
Inside, large windows let in tons of natural light into The Stand. The walls are minimally decorated with masks and artwork from East and West Africa, mostly donated by friends.
Wooden furniture reminds her of the camping trips she and her family have taken during the pandemic and the time spent outdoors. You really feel at home on the family couch. After years of working in other people’s kitchens, she chokes on the prospect of hosting other small business owners and seeing the black entrepreneurial community grow.
For Goodridge, the road ahead is still paved with unknowns. She worries about staffing and meeting the company’s revenue goals. “There’s always this little doubt: how do we do it?”
But she is confident that it will work. “I’m doing this with my heart,” she said. “My heart can’t really lead me down the wrong path.”