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Adenah Bayoh: Honoree at the NJBIZ Best 50 Women in Business event tonight has amazing story of success

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    Adenah Bayoh's empire in Irvington begins at IHOP.
    Adenah Bayoh's empire in Irvington begins at IHOP. - (FILE PHOTO)

    Adenah Bayoh's ticking clock begins at 4:30 a.m. with a blaring alarm. Before she's started eating her banana and toast, she's calling her 24-hour restaurant to check in. Then she's hopping in her car to attend early morning spin, boot camp and yoga classes, before coming home to a 4-month-old girl and a 3-year-old boy who need help getting ready for preschool.

    Then she starts preparing for a busy day.

    There are many reasons Bayoh has been selected to the NJBIZ list of New Jersey's Best 50 Women in Business. She's a restaurant owner, a landlord and a developer — not to mention being a one-woman economic engine for the Township of Irvington.

    But it's her ability to juggle her business interests as easily as she handles her morning routine that sets her apart.

    "What Adenah puts into a day, I find difficult to put into a week," said Cassandra Chatman, who manages the Office of Business Development for Irvington. "Her attitude and work ethic pushes me to reach even further, to root for our cause. She draws you in and gets you excited about the possibilities."

    Bayoh has been excited about the possibilities since she came to the U.S. from Liberia, settling in Newark while in high school.

    She hasn't stopped moving since.

    SLIDESHOW: NJBIZ names Best 50 Women in Business for 2014

    After graduating from Weequahic High School in 1997, Bayoh went to Fairleigh Dickinson to get a college education. She took a job as a resident assistant and a bank teller to help pay the bills. She didn't realize those jobs would be her greatest educational experience.

    The R.A. position, she said, molded her into the meticulous, dedicated, to-do list-oriented woman she is today.

    "If I wasn't in class, I was at the residence hall planning a community event or information session," she said.

    The bank teller job helped her launch a successful career as a banking executive after graduation.

    And she used the money she saved to purchase a three-family house in Irvington, which led to her third job: landlord.

    Bayoh lived on the first floor, rented out the other two and has been avidly investing in urban properties ever since.

    After purchasing several residential and commercial properties in her early 20s, Bayoh turned to Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith for advice on how to diversify and become a restaurateur, a job she's wanted since helping out at her grandmother's restaurant in Liberia.

    Smith suggested she purchase the landmark Kless Diner in 2007, giving her a key piece of advice in the process.

    "I said, 'Boy, I'd turn this place into an IHOP,'" he said. "I didn't think she'd take my advice so literally."

    Despite being just 26, Bayoh met the steep requirements for the IHOP franchising application and was in business.

    Bayoh's IHOP is one of the top grossing stores in the region. It's no accident.

    From overseeing the food production to making deals with vendors, Bayoh is very hands on. She begins her work day by connecting with employees, assessing energy levels and chatting with her manager — conversations that usually determine the rest of her day.

    Most importantly, Bayoh wholeheartedly commits herself to customer service and satisfaction, which shows in her IHOP's 95 percent score in customer feedback. Known in the Irvington community as the face of IHOP, Bayoh can frequently be found greeting customers and serving food to her regular patrons.

    "You have to know and interact with your customers for them to come back, " she said. "People want to go places where they feel valued and connected, especially those living in urban communities. They need to be able to trust you."

    In choosing IHOP, a family-oriented restaurant chain that encourages social responsibility by providing a paid day off for employees who volunteer for an organization of their choice, Bayoh has aligned her desire to better her community with her passion for restaurant management.

    Her IHOP participates in community events such as providing prom dresses to female students at Irvington High School, feeding hundreds of families during the holidays, providing free breakfast sandwiches to children under 12, closing the restaurant to provide free meals to veterans and hosting numerous clothing, toy and book drives.

    "I want to be thought of as a person who thought more about her community impact than her bottom line," she said.

    Mayor Smith says she does just that every day.

    "Adenah understands the importance of investing in communities that you've lived and worked in," he said. "She's gone from working in a local McDonald's to having a major impact on our town. Due to the economic recession, we've had to start all over again in many respects; Adenah keeps struggling to keep Irvington alive."

    In addition to running IHOP and contributing to her community, Bayoh remains a partner at Kapwood LLC, an urban development firm based in Irvington.

    She continues to build her real estate portfolio by purchasing rundown or vacant buildings in economically distressed towns such as Newark, East Orange and Irvington.

    The firm most recently purchased the vacant and abandoned Irvington General Hospital in 2012 with plans to develop hundreds of affordable housing units and a few commercial businesses.

    That pursuit often involves a mind-boggling organizational daily routine, one that typically ends around 6 p.m.

    But even then, her life is meticulously scheduled. There's dinner, some playtime and bedtime — complete with a bedtime story. Both kids are tucked in by 7:30 p.m. By 10, she's in bed, too.

    It may sound like a tough week, but Bayoh said she wouldn't have it any other way. And she offers it up as advice to women who want to get where she is today.

    "You have to have an extremely strong work ethic as a woman in business," she said. "You need to be five to 10 times better than the person sitting next to you. When you wake up in the morning, you have to hit the ground running."

    E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com

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