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10 Successful Black Family Businesses

Generations work together to build a legacy

  • OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network

    Sweetie Pie’s, St. Louis

    Robbie Montgomery and son Tim Norman
    Sassy “Miss Robbie,” a former backup singer for Ike and Tina Turner, started the soul food restaurant that is featured on the OWN network reality TV show Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s. Her son and business partner, Tim, manages one of the two St. Louis restaurants, which also employ several other family members. A third location opened in North Hollywood, Calif. in 2015.

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  • Mark Elias/AP

    Johnson Publishing Company, Chicago

    John Johnson and daughter Linda Johnson Rice
    Arkansas native John Johnson and his wife, Eunice, started the publishing and cosmetics empire in 1942 with $500 borrowed against his mother’s home furnishings. The company, now run by daughter Linda, includes Ebony and Jet magazines and Fashion Fair Cosmetics. John Johnson died in 2005.

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  • Courtesy the Sterling Family

    Esterlina Vineyards & Winery, Mendocino County, Calif.

    Murio Sterling and sons Eric, Chris, Steve and Craig
    The Sterlings farmed for three generations before entering the wine business in 2000. Eric, a physician, is the company's winemaker. Craig, an attorney, manages the tasting room. Chris is the vineyard manager, and Steve heads marketing and sales. The family also owns Everett Ridge Winery in Sonoma County.

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  • Courtesy Black Enterprise

    Earl G. Graves Ltd., New York

    Earl G. Graves Sr., and sons Earl Jr., John and Michael
    The senior business magnate is chairman of the communications company he started in 1968. It includes Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., which publishes Black Enterprise, a magazine targeting African American businesspeople. The company also organizes events for black entrepreneurs and professionals. Graves’ oldest son, Earl Jr., serves as CEO; younger sons John and Michael also work in the family businesses.

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  • Jon Didier, courtesy of McDonald's Operators' Association of Southern California

    McDonald’s, Los Angeles Area

    Patricia Williams and daughter Nicole Enearu
    Owner-operator Patricia Williams and her former husband bought their first McDonald’s restaurant in 1984. After successfully turning around that one financially, they were offered a brand-new restaurant in the franchise. Williams now owns more than a dozen McDonald’s in the L.A. area with daughter Nicole, a former social worker, and oversees operations for most of them.

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  • Javier Moto

    Sylvia’s, Harlem, N.Y.

    Sylvia Woods and children Van, Bedelia, Kenneth and Crizette
    In 1962, Woods, later known as the “Queen of Soul Food,” bought the small luncheonette where she worked as a waitress. The restaurant has since expanded into several businesses, including a catering hall, a nationwide line of Sylvia’s food products and a real estate firm. The enterprise is now in the hands of three generations of the family. Woods died in 2012.

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  • Robert Deutschman

    AARP Offer: Remember the past, help shape the future

    Share your stories and help advocate for political support to protect your future. Join AARP to support living with dignity and purpose.

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  • Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

    Radio One, Washington, D.C.

    Cathy Hughes and son Alfred C. Liggins III
    In 1980, Hughes and her then-husband bought a Washington radio station, which she turned into a broadcast empire of 53 urban stations in 16 markets. As CEO, her son, Alfred, expanded the multimillion-dollar company into television with TV One, a national cable and satellite television network.

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  • Courtesy Stewart & Calhoun Funeral Home

    Stewart & Calhoun Funeral Home, Akron, Ohio

    James Stewart and son Preston, William Calhoun and son Byron
    Founders James Stewart and William Calhoun, along with Lehman Black, started the funeral home in 1963, aiming to make it a first-class African American operation. Sons Preston and Byron later followed in their fathers’ footsteps and help run the business today. Stewart died in 2011.

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  • Tim Leon for PARKVIEW MAGAZINE

    Source Booksellers, Detroit

    Janet Jones and daughter Alyson
    Janet, a retired schoolteacher, started selling books at a church bazaar and founded the independent bookstore in 1988. It has become a community hub for nonfiction, with topics ranging from world history to spirituality. Alyson is her right-hand woman and tech whiz, encouraging the use of social media and the computer to promote and run the business.

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  • Peter Frank Edwards/Redux

    Martha Lou’s Kitchen, Charleston, S.C.

    Martha Lou Gadsden and daughter Debra
    Gadsden, 85, opened her modest, bright pink restaurant in an old gas station in 1983, and has been serving up Low Country cuisine ever since. The mother of nine is still cooking with the help of her family. Daughter Debra serves as the hostess at this local institution, which has been featured on the Travel Channel and Food Network and in the New York Times.

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