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SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: Calling All “Foodpreneurs”: For the love of food, culture, & community

By Keyona Kelly


Latoya Ricks, of Erma’s Island (Photo credit: Salt City Market)

Over the past year, what is it that we have all yearned for and ordered as take out so many times to bring comfort to us in times when we were too tired and too stressed? What have we bought gift cards for or donated to give to those on the front lines taking care of us all? What industry has been one of the hardest hit, yet still is persevering due to the dedication of repeat customers and owners, employees’ passion for what they do? Where is it that we can’t wait to go visit again and partake in their passion to bring comfort and joy to us all after such an unprecedented year? The answers of course are food and restaurants.

The food industry has been devastated during the pandemic. Some have made it through, and some decided to cut their losses and close their doors. I personally had the opportunity to work with so many local and culturally diverse entrepreneurs unafraid of pursuing the dream of bringing their cuisine to our community. Though the industry outlook was uncertain, and many difficult discussions took place, their passion and their “why” far outweighed their apprehension.

I had the privilege to work with most of the stall owners at Salt City Market, a unique in-the-area food hall featuring culturally diverse cuisine, desserts, beverages, and more. I saw these “foodpreneurs” grow from their original concept development, to take-out-only pop-ups when dine in was shut down, to teaching them what was necessary to obtain funding for their final stall concept in downtown Syracuse. 

When asked about their experience of working with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Onondaga Community College (OCC) on their venture, here is what these foodpreneurs said:

“The Small Business Development Center is an invaluable resource offering information a new business owner won’t easily find anywhere else. I can’t recommend it enough to any aspiring entrepreneur.” — Fiona Barbour Day, Pie’s The Limit

 “SBDC was extremely helpful. Keyona especially. She took her time to assist me with business plan consolidations and our financials. SBDC is a great asset to the Syracuse business community.” — Dreamer Glen, Miss Prissy’s

“Keyona has helped me open my business here in Syracuse — and taught me everything I know about business in America. I have known Keyona since 2017 and I owe her all my thanks.” — Firas Hashim, Baghdad Restaurant

“Keyona is patient and honest and transparent. I can’t recommend her highly enough for any first-time entrepreneur.” — Sleyrow Mason, Soulutions

“As a single mom opening up a restaurant in a pandemic, getting a loan was really stressful. Keyona helped me balance my own investment with my loan request and make the best decision for my business.” — Latoya Ricks, Erma’s Island

Due to the unwavering desire and interest we are seeing from either potential or existing food-industry business owners, we have created a Food Industry Webinar Series to offer information and assistance.

The Onondaga SBDC is partnering with Collin Townsend, a food-industry expert that was also a technical assistant on the Salt City Market project with me. Collin will provide pertinent information specific to the food industry, as well as the business components, in a series of six virtual webinars.

The SBDC Food Industry Webinar Series will be for those thinking of starting a food business, to learn what it takes to bring their dream to reality. The series will also be for restaurant owners seeking to learn how to increase their bottom line. Each webinar series will cover up-to-date COVID-19 policies and procedures.

If you are interested in developing a food concept or have a food business that you want to take to the next level or make more efficient, join us in our Food Webinars starting on May 3. To learn more and register, visit 

Keyona Kelly is a certified business advisor at the SBDC, located at OCC. Contact her at

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