What It’s Like to Operate a Minority-Owned Business in Westchester

These minority-owned businesses walk us through what it’s like to operate in the county.

According to recent statistics, minority-owned businesses face significant disparities when it comes to funding and support. An analysis conducted by the US Small Business Administration revealed that minority entrepreneurs are three times more likely to be denied a loan compared to their white counterparts. This discrepancy in capital access not only hampers their ability to start or expand their businesses, but also perpetuates economic inequalities. Additionally, data from a 2022 study conducted by the Federal Reserve System states that 35% of white applicants received funds they applied for compared to Hispanics who received 19% and Black business owners who received only 16%. These statistics shed light on the systemic challenges faced by minority-owned businesses and the importance of addressing these disparities to foster a more equitable business landscape.

Darcel Dillard-Suite
Courtesy of Darcel Dillard-Suite

Darcel Dillard-Suite

President, Full Circle Confidential Workforce Wellness
Mount Vernon

A mental-health organization that specializes in providing comprehensive care for individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, and family dynamics.

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Ashley Bady
Photo by Stefan Radtke

Ashley Bady

Owner, Ashley’s Sweet Treats
Mount Vernon

Starting her baking business in Mount Vernon after graduating college, Bady initially focused on small, personalized desserts. She has now expanded her offerings to include larger events such as weddings and fundraisers. Her company offers a variety of treats, including cake sculptures, cake pops, cupcakes, and cookies.

Steven Dillard
Photo by Ocean Morrisette

Steven Dillard

Owner, Fun Bunch Line Dance

With a passion for sharing the joy of dance, Dillard provides engaging and interactive lessons that promote fitness, self-expression, and community connection. He is dedicated to teaching soul line dancing, a popular and vibrant dance style, to individuals of all ages and skill levels.

Sherry Grimes-Jenkins
Photo by Rana Faure

Sherry Grimes-Jenkins

Owner, EMY Flowers

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A designer/florist from Barbados who studied floral design at the New York Botanical Garden. From the experience she gained working in various flower shops, she opened her own business in 1999, serving Mahopac and Northern Westchester.

Chereese Jarvis-Hill
Photo by Stefan Radtke

Chereese Jarvis-Hill

President, Events to Remember

A full service event-management and public-relations company that focuses on corporate events, nonprofit events, and business-building entrepreneurship.

Melissa Panszi Riebe
Photo by Amanda Berce Photography

Melissa Panszi Riebe

Founder, A D’Zine
Dobbs Ferry

This company specializes in creating distinct jewelry pieces that combine vintage and contemporary styles. The creative mind behind the designs also hosts her own podcast called “Make your Mark[et].” Through this platform, Panszi Riebe conducts interviews with other artisans, providing listeners with the chance to delve into their backgrounds, motivations, and philanthropic endeavors.

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Q: What challenges did you anticipate as a minority business?

A: Darcel Dillard-Suite: The very first challenge for us was: Where’s the money? How do we get the money and how do we continue to make the money and stay alive?

Chereese Jervis-Hill: I would say the representation. I’ve kind of just adapted to the space that I’m in. I’m not seeing a lot of people that kind of look like me in my space, which is fine, but you know it is nice to see when you’re in a business environment. I am one, and I’ve had to be. With owning my business for 20 years, if you feel like you’re not welcome at a table, kind of make your own table.

Steven Dillard: One of the biggest challenges I found was within myself. I don’t know if it’s because I really did a strong launch during COVID and right after the George Floyd instances, but I was able to go into different places where, previously, I would say they’re not going to accept me here. I’m like a corner guy from Peekskill.

Sherry Grimes-Jenkins: One of the biggest challenges I found even to this day was funding. I’m opening a second location and trying to get funding to even do the floors and stuff is very difficult. It’s hard, and I always feel like, from the beginning, although your product may grow, the location is kind of stagnated because you don’t have the funding to do the things people who don’t look like you would have.

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Q: Have any of you encountered any instances of direct or indirect discrimination from customers, suppliers, other business partners?

A: Sherry Grimes-Jenkins: We have to make sure that we go on delivery at a certain time. We even call the clients ahead to let them know that we’re coming because we are a minority family going to doors. I drove up to a property here in Carmel and the guy bolted down the driveway and said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I’m here to deliver flowers.” It was this whole big thing. He wanted me off the property ASAP. He said certain words. The floral design came from his wife’s company. They were sending it as a thank you for a project that she worked on. It was the scariest thing.

I think one of the challenges is representation. I think as a Latina female and woman-owned business, funding is an issue, but I think also getting a seat at that table especially in the maker world, it can be very, very cliquey.
— Melissa Panszi Riebe

Darcel Dillard-Suite: My business is run by myself and my husband. We have a really wonderful team now and we have a very diverse staff. We went after a contract and got a 99 in terms of their point system. They found a way not to give it to us and to give it to a white organization that had been getting it for years. We outscored the individual and they had to find a way to get us out. They decided to use something that we never heard of before: We can’t do business with a husband-and-wife team. They used our color and the husband-and-wife team to knock us out so they could give it back to the white organization. That was my first experience of dealing with a city contract that was just so underhanded and it was so apparent to us. I had an insider later tell me ‘You guys were straight-up discriminated against.’

Chereese Jervis-Hill: I think as a small-business owner, something that infuriates me, if someone says, ‘Can I get a discount?’ or ‘That’s high, can you charge me less?’ I’m like ‘Do you go into Nordstroms and go up to the counter and say I want this sweater, but I don’t want to pay $75. Can I pay $50?’ Don’t do that to me because you wouldn’t do that to a big box store.

I feel like if you really want to support Black, LatinX, women-owned businesses, make sure that it’s a nice substantial contract that’s really going to help impact and move their business forward.
— Chereese Jervis-Hill

minority owned business
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Q: Are there any policies or laws in place right now that protect minority-owned businesses?

A: Darcel Dillard-Suite: MWBE (Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprise): great opportunities, great resources, even lenders now. There are banks that are specifically catering to, and trying to change the criteria to help people of color. But the problem with all of it is they still follow the same underwriting criteria that they do with everybody else. If your score is still not at the number that they want it to be at, maybe their allowance might allow you to get the loan, but you’re just not going to get as much. So, I think that’s where some of the challenges can be changed and tweaked. If you have billions of dollars to help us, get a level playing field, freaking change your policy when it comes to forcing us to take out credit lines to afford to do business with you, don’t make us float.

Chereese Jervis-Hill: I won a contract. It was a contract that someone else had and then they made changes to it and then re-submitted it, and I won that contract. I found out that the original contract was a more substantial one and not a MWBE. So, it’s like, ‘Oh good, we’re giving this to a Black business.’ But you know it’s now a smaller contract, so I feel like if you really want to support Black, LatinX, women-owned businesses, make sure that it’s a nice substantial contract that’s really going to help impact and move their business forward.

Melissa Panszi Riebe: Finding your community. You need these core communities where there’s a circle of trust. Have a circle where you can be open and honest and say, ‘Am I being discriminated against?’ or ‘Am I seeing this wrong?’ It’s having that consistent community with you and those resources that you really can fall back on when you’re having those lows.

Darcel Dillard-Suite: Something as simple as the chamber of commerce. A chamber of commerce is layered with lots of free resources and lots of people. I would first advise them to connect with them.

Ashley Bady: Just follow your heart and believe in yourself. There are many resources out there. There’s free money out there. There are brands that you can tap into. I am also a part of the Business Council of Westchester, and Chereese is my mentor. If you have a great mentor, they can also give you resources.

Chereese Jervis-Hill: One: The most important thing I think is really to create a brand that people don’t want to live without. Two: I think not being afraid to make your own table. Obviously, you need people that will support you and kind of listen. But don’t be afraid to just make your own table. We’ve all created businesses, right? So, we’ve made our own table. Three: Be okay to be your own cheerleader. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn and be okay with that.

Steven Dillard: For advice, the only thing I could say is keep your ears open and stay on the course. Keep yourself available for opportunities like this where you’ll be able to learn and grow, and then make those opportunities available for other people.

Sherry Grimes-Jenkins: I would say get out. Don’t be scared to get out there and say what your brand is like; join organizations, go to networking events, don’t sit in the corner. Get out and tell people who you are and what your product is. You have to market for yourself and push yourself. Get out and let people know what you’re offering and don’t be scared to hear ‘no’.

minority owned business
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Q: What are the hopes for the future in terms of creating a more equitable environment for minority-owned businesses?

A: Darcel Dillard-Suite: My hope is more collaboration. I think that when I talk about some of the larger organizations, it would be cool to actually collaborate with them and then sometimes the equity that we’re looking for can be more inclusive if they would even consider subcontracts to my organization.

Ashley Bady: My hope within my business and in my community is to have mentorship programs, not just kind of hands-on classes with baking, but business classes. I have a business minor, so more connecting with my community and helping others. Whether they’re young, old, middle-age…kind of just giving them more insight into what it is to run a business.

Chereese Jervis-Hill: My hope would be for folks to be intentional about helping another business, another small-business owner, minority-business owner; just really being intentional about it.

Melissa Panszi Riebe: My hope is that it’s more of an even playing field where people come to us not just to check off a box. They come to us for guidance. I think in certain spaces, it’s getting there. I feel like, yes, with George Floyd’s murder, it definitely swung the pendulum. I feel the pendulum is swinging the other way, and it’s like getting it back to that equal part where it’s not just, ‘Oh this is the trend, or this is what we’re supposed to do.’ This is just the way it is. That is my hope, that it’s just the way it is.

My future for my business is to be more inspiring, not only as a product to buy, but to inspire young people. To educate them more about the industry, what they can do, and how flowers make a positive impact on people’s lives. Horticulture is a form of therapy. It’s therapeutic to send flowers. It’s just not giving someone flowers. It’s a smile. It’s a changeover. It’s a wealth. It’s the warmth. It’s the love that comes with it.
— Sherry Grimes-Jenkins

Related: Sustainability Is a Serious Deal for These Westchester Businesses

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