Ezell’s Famous Chicken co-founders Lewis and Darnell Rudd and Faye Stephens are partnering with DoorDash to give out thousands in no-strings-attached grants to Black-owned businesses in Washington.

The fund, which will distribute $2,500 to 20 businesses, marks the start of Ezell’s Raising Up Black Businesses (R.U.B.B.) initiative, something Lewis Rudd hopes can help Black businesses in Washington for years. Rudd says he started the initiative because he’s seen many small Black-owned businesses struggle or shutter without good access to capital, especially during the pandemic. 

Applications for the grants are open until Sept. 20. Washington businesses that are at least 51% Black-owned and have been open for at least one year are eligible.

DoorDash contributed $40,000 to the fund, and the Rudd family donated $10,000. The Rudds and Stephens, along with Ezell Stephens, who is no longer an owner of Ezell’s, started Ezell’s Famous Chicken in Seattle’s Central District in 1984. Since then, Ezell’s has grown into a popular fried-chicken chain with 16 locations in Washington and one in Oregon.

But part of the reason Lewis Rudd says he wanted to start the initiative is because in the early years, he struggled to grow Ezell’s as a Black business owner. Rudd says when he wanted to open the second location of Ezell’s in the University District, it took him six months and the help of a state legislator to secure a loan — even though Ezell’s had an excellent financial track record. Rudd says “Ezell’s loan was held up due to redlining, which affected many businesses and homeowners in the Central District.”

Rudd says Ezell’s became successful, nonetheless, because of community support, although many of the Central District businesses near the original Ezell’s are now shuttered. And during the pandemic, Ezell’s takeout model thrived, while many other Black-owned businesses struggled. So when DoorDash offered Ezell’s a free promotion last October as part of the company’s efforts to support Black-owned businesses after the 2020 protests for racial justice, Rudd suggested using the funds to support Black-owned businesses that weren’t as fortunate as Ezell’s instead.

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“As it takes a village to raise a kid, it takes a community to raise a business,” Rudd says.

In the future, he says he wants to capitalize on the momentum built by the 2020 protests for racial justice to continue helping Black businesses with the R.U.B.B initiative. He’s now raising more money for the fund with corporate partners like Sysco, PepsiCo and Bargreen Ellingson and plans to have another round of grants available sometime in 2022. 

This story was updated with a quote from Lewis Rudd explaining why the loan for Ezell’s second location was delayed.

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