Minority- and women-owned businesses support each other at City Foundry

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Tiffany Wesley was diagnosed with a hormonal condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in 2013 that led to severe skin issues such as acne and hyperpigmentation.

According to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, PCOS affects women of color more frequently and severely than white women. 

Wesley struggled mentally with her outer appearance, so she started creating natural skincare products paired with essential oils to achieve clean, healthy and vibrant skin and to improve her overall mood. 

“(It) was born out of personal necessity,” Wesley said. 

A few years later, her oldest daughter was diagnosed with eczema. This fueled her fire even more to establish a brand that is a staple for locally- and ethically-sourced skincare: Pure Vibes. 

“[Our philosophy is] ‘Clean People, Clean Community and Clean Planet,’” Wesley said. “Our products are made with love and intention.” 

Wesley approached her childhood friend, Demetrius Neal, and asked if he would be a founding member to help jumpstart Pure Vibes. 

“He agreed, rolled his sleeves up and got to work with no questions asked, after completing the Buffalo Coop Academy through Cooperation Buffalo,” Wesley said. “We worked with WashU Legal Clinic to complete the conversion.” 

Wesley and Neal opened their first storefront in early June 2021 in University City. Pure Vibes opened a second location on Nov. 12, 2022 at City Foundry STL. Wesley said that while she is thrilled to be part of the community at City Foundry, there are challenges that come with being a person of color (POC)-owned and woman-owned business. 

“For us, there is a vast knowledge gap,” Wesley said. “Fortunately, when we first started, we received so much support throughout the St. Louis Business ecosystem on a foundational level to assist with start-up costs, inventory and primary business needs, but our needs have evolved.” 

Other POC-business owners at City Foundry have been able to rely on each other as a support system, but Wesley hasn’t gotten the chance, yet. 

“It’s been so busy that we haven’t had the opportunity to connect with other businesses as much as we would like, but we have plans to mingle soon,” Wesley said. 

Photo by Craig Reynolds. Storefront of Chez-Ali’s Afro-Caribbean Cuisine.

Alioun Thiam, the owner of the restaurant Chez Ali at City Foundry, has also felt the support from POC businesses there.

“The relationship that has formed between myself and the other POC owners at City Foundry STL has been beyond helpful,” Thiam said. “When I or others need anything, we feel welcome to ask each other, and we are all willing to help in any capacity. I really believe that we’re all in this together.” 

Chez Ali started in 2013 at St. Louis Union Station. Before then, Thiam participated in various festivals throughout the city, cooking his food. 

“I just love good food,” Thiam said. “Everybody, in general, loves good food, so I thought that opening a restaurant that serves flavorsome Afro-Caribbean cuisine would be a great addition to the St. Louis area.” 

Photo by Craig Reynolds. 4Hens Creole Kitchen storefront.

Just before the Food Hall at City Foundry opened in August 2021, Thiam contacted City Foundry’s management, and they set up a showcase. He cooked for them live in front of the award-winning chef Gerald Craft, who oversees the kitchens at the Food Hall. A few weeks later, Thiam got a call from the Foundry, telling him he was going to be one of the founding restaurants. 

“I was very happy, to say the least,” Thaim said. 

Every day since then, Thiam wanted his restaurant to improve. He said his ultimate goal is to serve quality, multicultural and hearty food to customers. He also hopes to expand Chez Ali to other neighborhoods in St. Louis. 

“Seeing the smile light up on customers’ faces is what keeps me going,” Thiam said. 

While he is striving to achieve his goals, Thiam is also trying to overcome challenges; something he finds challenging is the workforce. Thiam has to be able to duplicate how the food is made and the quality in which it is served, even when the head chef is off or unavailable. 

“I always make sure I have at least two cooks on a shift in case something goes wrong,” Thiam said. “Even though this has doubled the payroll, it’s worth it at the end of the day to know that my food is being made right.” 

Brandi Artis, one of the owners of 4Hens Creole Kitchen at City Foundry, also notes the monetary challenge. Artis feels like the biggest adversity in funding comes from being a Black-owned and women-owned business. 

“It seems as if there are always roadblocks as a Black person trying to open a new business, especially when it comes to getting loans from banks,” Artis said. “As a woman-owned business, the biggest struggle that I have had is that male employees have a difficult time respecting the fact that they work for a woman that is not meek and direct with her delivery.” 

Nevertheless, Artis and the other owners of 4Hens have felt support from other POC-owned businesses at City Foundry. 

“It is sometimes very hard to navigate in spaces where very few look like you,” Artis said. “The City Foundry has been very welcoming.” 

4Hens Creole Kitchen was formed by two couples and friends who moved to St. Louis together last year and pursued the idea to create a restaurant. Artis and her wife are the sole owners of the restaurant. 

“The motive in starting 4Hens was offering a concept to the Foundry that wasn’t already there,” Artis said. “St. Louis and New Orleans have similarities as cities, and Creole and Cajun food is very well-loved here in St Louis.” 

4Hens moved to City Foundry in January 2022. 

“We actually opened the restaurant because we fell in love with the City Foundry’s concept,” Artis said. “I’d always wanted to go into a food hall, and when the opportunity rose with the City Foundry, I said, ‘why not take this leap of faith and try something new?’”

In the future, 4Hens plans to open more locations, not just in Missouri, but across the country. It also opened a second restaurant, Simply Delicious, which was once a catering company. 

“I’m just living the dream and checking goals off, one by one,” Artis said.

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Jordyn Grimes
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