Union jobs are great jobs, except if you have one that involves layoffs. Charly Bass’ job cooking at the oil refineries in Delaware City involved frequent layoffs, leaving her with periods of no work and little income. But Charly had a skill she could use. She would cook and sell food when she wasn’t on the job. It was during one layoff that she got the idea to open a restaurant.
She identified a property that she could lease in north Wilmington and in 2015, Jerry Deen’s Family Restaurant was born. It seemed perfect at first, but the property that housed her restaurant had a lot of issues and Charly was saddled with the repair costs, which became very expensive and stressful. “Pouring money into a building I didn’t own was something I couldn’t keep doing,” she said. She needed to find a new location.
Fast forward to 2018, a friend introduced Charly to Van Hampton at True Access Capital, just the lender she needed who would take a calculated risk on funding a startup. She honed her business skills by taking the training courses True Access Capital offers and was especially helped by the “Recipe for Success” course, which provides a solid foundation for those interested in starting a food service-related business. The course is taught by industry professionals and covers things like controlling labor and inventory costs; advertising and marketing; site selection and lease negotiations.
“They helped me become business savvy – to be prepared and know what I was doing before I opened the doors. They helped me build back-office systems that would work for the long term. These courses are especially needed in urban communities to teach running a business and understanding the financial aspects of it. Now I can tell you how every dollar is being used!”
Charly found a property on the east side of Wilmington that was being developed by the Central Baptist Church CDC. The property, which was being developed as part of an initiative to revitalize Wilmington’s eastside community, included two apartments upstairs and a restaurant space on the lower level. Van Hampton introduced Charly to Reverend Terrence Keeling, the Executive Director of the Central Baptist CDC and she worked closely with the CDC to assure the required renovations to outfit the space to her specs, were completed.
“I was so excited! I grew up in this area and was honored to be able to come back and serve my community,” Charly said.
And then, mid-construction, COVID-19 caused the work to stop. “Our renovations came to a complete and indefinite halt,” she said. It was a frightening, uncertain time. But ultimately, restaurants were considered essential businesses and she received permission to continue her construction with COVID protocols.
Jerry Deen’s opened during the COVID height, offering takeout food to a grateful community and the business skyrocketed, supported by friends, family, and eastside residents.
“We’re known for good food, consistent quality and reliable customer service,” Charly said.
“I’m pleased to be a spark of economic development right here in the eastside of Wilmington and I hope I can inspire more people to open businesses here. I can remember when I was a child, this was a thriving business community. I’m honored to be leading the way for other Black-owned businesses to return to this area.”