Apr 25, 2022
For the second edition of GSBA’s quarterly Masterclass program, a part of the GSBA Business Academy, we welcomed Lewis Rudd of Ezell’s Famous Chicken to share his entrepreneurial journey.
First and foremost, Lewis advised participants to follow their dreams and filter their love into their business. He shared about his upbringing in East Texas with ten brothers and sisters and how having an intentional journey toward being the best guided him throughout his whole life.
Ezell’s first location was opened on February 3, 1984 as a family-owned business. Now they have 325 employees across 18 locations, including their first international store in Dubai! Especially relevant in 2022, what has always kept Lewis awake at night is labor challenges and supply chains. He has navigated economic ups and downs by “always carrying a bag of solutions” and relying on having great partners and lasting relationships. Lewis urges other entrepreneurs to be proactive. Prior to the pandemic, 85% of Ezell’s orders were already to-go orders, and he understood that he needed to partner with third-party delivery apps such as Doordash to sustain his business. He has even managed to open three new locations during the pandemic, always asking that his team provide food that is “fresh, good, and fast.”
While Ezell’s is a Seattle icon now, it was not so easy to get started. Lewis shared how funders were not open to lending to Black-owned businesses or not willing to support the business plans from Black entrepreneurs. Building critical relationships and mentors, as well as having plans in place to overcome these challenges, was vital to building up Ezell’s into the model that it is today.
To give back to the community and offer resources that he was never able to take advantage of when he was just starting, Lewis and his siblings started the Raising Up Black Business (R.U.B.B.) initiative, to celebrate and lift up Black-owned establishments. This grant program was named, in part, in memory of his grandmother rubbing medicine on his skin when he was sick to help him feel better. In partnership with Doordash, Rudd’s R.U.B.B. will offer no-strings-attached business grants to 20 Black-owned businesses and organizations in the Pacific Northwest to help fund sustainability, operations, growth, and success.