By Sarah Thompson
When Tequanna Tyson was a little girl, she remembers her grandmother, a Southern woman, cooking all the time. Her meals were the epitome of good food. When her mother and grandmother began teaching her how to cook, she never dreamed she would one day have her very own restaurant.
During the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020, Tyson was living in New York City. She decided to pack up and find a new place to call home that wasn’t being hit as hard by the pandemic, eventually making her way to Torrington, Connecticut. That’s when she discovered that there were very limited options when it came to soul food restaurants.
“I was baking and cooking in New York City and would do festivals and pop-up shops on the weekends, but I never thought about having a store. So, when I moved out to Connecticut two years ago, I was driving a bus,” she shared. “I thought, let me try to see how difficult it would be to open an actual restaurant here where we can have soul food because there is none in the area.”
Tyson was on a mission to bring something new and fresh to the area—a mission that didn’t always come easy. In early August 2021, she opened the doors to Tequanna’s Soul Food & Sweets.
“It’s very hard to open your own restaurant. Especially having to deal with all the permits and stuff I didn’t know about. It’s a lot of money,” she said.
“It makes me really happy because you can tell is someone is really enjoying your food. It makes me feel really good and want to stay here and keep going.”
Plus, Tyson’s commitment to serving only the best food is one that comes with a lot of dedication and hard work.
“Everything is actually home-cooked, from cleaning the chicken, seasoning the chicken, everything,” she explained. “Nothing we serve is off a delivery truck and you just heat it up and it is ready. Nothing is pre-made.”
While her mother helps Tyson every other weekend with cooking for the restaurant, most days she’s on her own.
“It’s challenging because right now me and my mom are the only cooks,” she shared. “I have another job. I usually go cook every morning and then by noon my employees come in and we have everything set out on tables.”
She’s doing something right by bringing a great new option to the area. Tyson’s menu includes the best of soul food—BBQ ribs, pork chops, black-eyed peas, collard greens, mac and cheese, fried chicken and so much more.
“Everybody likes the food,” said Tyson. “It makes me really happy because you can tell is someone is really enjoying your food. It makes me feel really good and want to stay here and keep going.”
Her specialties also include desserts and sweets, like banana pudding, and she creates custom-made wedding cakes. Tyson also offers catering, and her restaurant has a bar with special drinks.
As the only female, Black-owned restaurant in Torrington, she’s faced some unique challenges, but those obstacles are what keeps her motivated.
“I keep going because of the people that said we wouldn’t make it out here because I’m a Black-owned business,” said Tyson. “Right now, I have so many people on my side—the mayor and everybody else—everybody just supports me a lot. So that helps me. They don’t make me feel like I’m not supposed to be here.”
And with roots setting in place for her restaurant in Torrington, Tyson is looking to expand her business.
“I’m working with other businesses to have a whole bunch of events and eventually some time in the future I do want to open another restaurant in New York,” she shared.
What started as a tradition in one family’s kitchen from generation to generation is now being shared for everyone to enjoy. What a delicious thing she’s done!
Tequanna's Soul Food & Sweets is located at 21 Main Street, Torrington, Connecticut and is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 12:00-7:00pm, Thursday-Saturday, 12:00-9:00pm and is closed on Sunday and Monday. Learn more on their Facebook page, website or by calling (646) 956-0221. Veterans receive a discount every Wednesday.
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT DIRECTORY:
* Food photos courtesy of Tequanna's Soul Food & Sweets
By Sarah Thompson
Minna Murphy, owner of Zeni Beauty®, has been helping people through the art of makeup for more than two decades and has a heart for helping everyone look and feel like the best versions of themselves. Zeni Beauty® truly is the brand for the everyday woman.
In the early 2000s, Murphy started working as a freelance makeup artist for a film and video production company.
“I started custom blending onset because as every makeup artist knows, trying to carry over 20 shades of foundation in your kit is heavy and expensive,” said Murphy. “The production company repeatedly hired me for almost a decade because I could match anyone’s skin tone—from the lightest to the darkest person. My beauty business was born from the requests I received from the actors and actresses asking how they could get a bottle of the color I just created, because they couldn’t find a better match at the cosmetic counters.”
In 2005, Murphy launched her first business—Makeup Mixology, Inc.—focused on custom blending for women of color, with the hopes of making custom blended foundation readily available to women like her who struggled to find the right shade of foundation. “Historically, Black women have not had as many color options available as other ethnicities,” she said. After years of working with people of every skin tone on set and private clients she refocused her business model to be more inclusive.
“While working in the film and media industry, I met people of all cultures and ethnicities. I realized that despite our perceived difference we all want the same thing and that is to be happy and look fabulous,” she shared.
Murphy combined her years of knowledge, education, and expertise and in February 2019, she launched Zeni Beauty®. Zeni is the shortened form of the word Zarazeni, which is the Czech word for inclusion. She created Zeni Beauty® because her business was growing, and she needed to separate the cosmetic brand from her cosmetic manufacturing business now known as The Makeup Mix Cosmetic Co.
“While working in the film and media industry, I met people of all cultures and ethnicities. I realized that despite our perceived difference we all want the same thing and that is to be happy and look fabulous.”
Murphy took hundreds of custom foundation formulas and created a normalized array of colors that represents the global range of skin tones. Her products are now accessible to an even wider range people.
“There’s a person behind every foundation color in the Zeni Beauty® Cosmetics line,” said Murphy.
“Today, most cosmetic companies offer various shades of brown foundation,” she added. “Custom foundation is different, understanding how to match an individual’s unique undertones is a science. While there are other companies that offer ‘custom blending,’ I understand how to adjust the formula to compensate for the way your skin will react to environmental factors. I have combined my experience as a makeup artist with my training as a cosmetic formulator and created a line of made-to-order products that can be personalized to your skins needs. This is what sets my products apart from other brands.”
All Zeni Beauty® products are environmentally conscious and free from parabens, mineral oil and talc. “Your skin is an organ, it breathes and absorbs,” she explained,” the ingredients in the products you use matter!”
While foundation is her passion and the first product she started making, Murphy’s manufacturing company produces a full line of cosmetic products including foundation powders, concealers, eyeshadows, blushes, lipsticks and lip glosses, all of which can be purchased on her website, zenibeauty.com.
One of Murphy’s future goals is to work with up-and-coming beauty businesses, helping them validate and scale their product formulas. She wants to help others pursue their passions—a beauty entrepreneur helping other entrepreneurs!
“My manufacturing company is preparing to offer small scale production runs for indie beauty businesses,” she said.
She believes that beauty is much more than physical appearance. It’s a reflection of all that is good about people at their core.
“This business is an expression of who I am. I was born to do this,” said Murphy. “I’m finally living my dream.”
Find Zeni Beauty® on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube or visit www.zenibeauty.com. Zeni Beauty® offers virtual consultations and in-person services by appointment at The Alms House Salon, 53 Warwick Street, Middletown, Connecticut.
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT DIRECTORY:
By Alicia Brown
It’s that time of year again, to look for the perfect gifts to give friends, family and coworkers. Keiwana Hanley, owner of lash extension, brow tinting and beauty product business High Kei Beauty, reminds everyone to also put themselves on their gift list in the midst of the busy holiday season. After all, self-care is the greatest gift out there.
Hanley is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to boosting esteem—“konfidence” as she calls it—for people of all ages. Her motto is “accessorize with confidence” but she makes it clear that the items she sells and services she provides aren’t intended to give the confidence, but the other way around—the wearers give the items confidence. She reminds customers to never to rely on clothing or accessories give them beauty, because they are simply there to accent the beauty that already exists in the person wearing them.
Having learned how to braid hair at the age of eight from her cousin, Hanley would often give back to her community by teaching young girls how to do their own hair. Doing this helped her see how girls were gaining confidence, power and self-esteem through the knowledge she was sharing. It served as an inspiration to launch High Kei Beauty.
After struggling with what to name her business, she asked her late father for assistance.
“With his help, I woke up with a completely different name. I didn’t choose any of the options I had. My dad is Keith, and his name is scrambled through my name. That’s when I knew it was perfect.”
Having learned how to braid hair at the age of eight from her cousin, Hanley would often give back to her community by teaching young girls how to do their own hair.
Since she earned her official lash tech certification from Lash Snob in 2019, Hanley has been kicking up the glam one girl at a time. Hanley takes the time to get to know her customers and provide them with quality products with unmatched detail.
But launching High Kei Beauty wasn’t an easy path. When Hanley relocated to Connecticut in 2009 from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, college credits weren’t transferred, which caused a setback. And when she officially made Connecticut her home, she struggled to find a place that would allow her to run her business due to certification requirements. But through it all, she was determined to start a business that would spread confidence and help women look and feel their best.
High Kei Beauty provides a plethora of accessories, including hair bows for young girls, wig caps with different hairstyles, mink lashes and so much more. Seasonal items include Christmas wreaths. One of her popular products are her money catchers—adorable bags for going out on the town or for a date night. Hanley will be adding more items and bundles to her online shop for the holiday season, including double-lined beanie hats for winter. She also offers in-home beauty appointments, which can be schedule through her website.
One thing’s for sure—Hanley is here to help women keeping up with their “konfidence” this season!
Find High Kei Beauty on Facebook, Instagram or on their website. Appointments can be made through social media or by phone at (203) 802-5817.
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT DIRECTORY:
By Lajeune Hollis
It’s often said that there’s no love like a mother’s love. After Val McCray, owner of Heavenly Hair Growth Oil, underwent back surgery in 2019 and soon after suffered a heart attack, her mother was so worried about her daughter’s health that she began to suffer from hair loss. Eventually, she lost all of her hair until she was completely bald.
As soon as McCray recovered from her heart attack, she knew she needed to help her mother with her hair growth but didn’t know where to begin. She had always combed and styled her mother’s hair, and hated to see her in pain. So, she searched and found a local dermatologist who administered monthly scalp injections for her mother for three months. Sadly, the painful injections yielded no results.
"I truly want women to feel good about themselves. It makes me happy to see my product work."
Frustrated and heartbroken, McCray was determined to do some research to discover what could be done to help her mother’s hair grow back. She began experimenting on her mother’s scalp with organic herbs, oils and rice water, which contained the protein that was needed for her to strengthen her hair follicles. Her tender loving care paid off and her mother’s hair grew back, along with her confidence.
Since the mixture McCray created worked for her elderly mother, she thought it could work for other family members who suffered from hair loss. Each time she applied her mixture to their hair on a regular basis, it worked! She was onto something.
Her hair growth oil was, in her eyes, truly made with love.
Because McCray and her husband own McCray Realty in Bridgeport, her time is flexible enough for her to operate her online business, which she officially opened in 2020 on a full-time basis and began operating out of her living room, then dining room, then kitchen. When she ran out of room she took all of the products and created her own “laboratory” in their basement, where she now has plenty of privacy and room to work. She hopes to one day be able to operate her business out of a free-standing building so she can hire more employees and help quickly get her products into the hands of those who need it most.
McCray’s best friend, Sarah Brooks, was her “tester” because she too was losing hair on her temples from wearing her braids too tight. The Heavenly Hair Growth Oil worked so well for Brooks that she took a leap of faith and quit her job in customer service to partner with McCray.
She says she never went into the hair growth business to make money. She simply wanted to bring joy back into her mother’s life. And now, her primary focus is seeing her customers gain the results they want from her product line.
“I’m not looking to be a millionaire,” she explained. “I truly want women to feel good about themselves. It makes me happy to see my product work. I know it works, as it is helping women (and some men) grow their hair back.”
Heavenly Hair Growth Oil is ideal for women who are losing their hair due to advanced age, poor health, Alopecia or even long-term chronic illnesses like cancer. But, her product line also includes Heavenly Hair Beard Oil, which, according to McCray, brings together alma and vitamin E to create a glorious oil that lends a rich, voluminous look to beards.
Learn more about Heavenly Hair Products on their website, which includes descriptions and information on everything they offer:
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT DIRECTORY:
By Lajeune Hollis
Debra Fountain has been in the fitness industry for over 25 years. Previously a personal trainer, group fitness instructor and fitness coach, she now owns LIFER Fitness Studio in West Hartford, Connecticut, where she offers cardio, strength training and yoga classes.
But, she wasn’t always so laser-focused on fitness. In fact, she once held a corporate job in New Jersey before leaving to become a stay-at-home mom 26 years ago. It was during those early days of parenthood when she felt that she needed to get back to her “old self” and improve her fitness.
After one day popping in a workout VHS tape that guaranteed results in 10 days or less, she started on her journey to her new identity, with fitness at the forefront. She started working in her home basement as a full-time personal trainer for what eventually led to helping a group of 60 middle-aged female clients reach their fitness goals. She loved her new career path, because she could stay in shape, raise her four children, and help her clients. She even managed to enter and place in two body-building competitions!
Fountain was inspired to create a lifestyle that empowered women. “If you feel strong on the outside, you'll start to feel strong on the inside,” she shared.
Her business name, LIFER, was inspired from the group of her 60 clients in Washington, D.C., who coveted her 6:00am personal training appointment. “Clients would come for their goals and they did not want to give up that spot,” she shared. “They called themselves ‘Lifers’.”
Today, LIFER Fitness Studio employs six fitness instructors who “love what they do and care about their clients,” according to Fountain. She selected each one of them because, as she says, she “worked long and hard enough in the corporate world to know how important it is to nurture and care for the people who work with you and for you.”
Fountain credits God for being the impetus behind opening her business seven years ago. She was content at the time, working in the fitness industry and not having small children to look after. She shared that it was a good life, and she was comfortable. But, “God would not have it,” she shared, and she felt compelled to do things a little differently and start her own business, even if it was tough. “Growing may be painful and there may be suffering,” she said.
She faithfully obeyed and opened her own studio during a milestone birthday year.
“Fitness will give you the best quality of life you can have.”
Fountain prays before each class. “It sets an intention for what I want my class to get,” she explained. Some people have likened her classes to church, from what they describe as intense feelings while working out.
Life – or should we say LIFER – was good, business was humming along and then the pandemic of 2020 hit.
Attendance slowed for her in-person classes, so Fountain started offering Facebook Live classes from March to June 2020. Then she took the classes outside where she could safely offer kickboxing, barre and cycling. After Thanksgiving, LIFER was forced to go completely virtual, so Fountain took the time to invest in virtual equipment to make her clients’ experience better. In April of 2021, LIFER resumed in-person classes, keeping safety measures in mind, like masking and air flow in the studio.
For Fountain, the silver lining of the pandemic was that it allowed her plenty of time to slow down and think about her “why” behind the business.
“I needed to check back into myself,” she explained.
She’s remaining focused on helping people live their best lives and to make fitness a lifestyle.
“Keep trying to find something – running, cycling, walking, swimming. You may not love it the first time but keep trying to live the best possible life on this planet,” she urged. “Fitness will give you the best quality of life you can have.”
LIFER Fitness Studio is located at 20 Jefferson Ave, Suite 6 in West Hartford, Connecticut. The studio offers Unlimited Monthly Memberships for a flat fee of $175/month, which includes unlimited classes from any of their five fitness areas, LIFER Class Packs, consisting of 10-class passes for $165 or 5-class passes for $85, drop-in classes for $17.50, and LIFER Virtual Workout Library, which offers virtual classes for a nominal fee.
Learn more about LIFER Fitness Studio on their website, on Facebook or Instagram.
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT DIRECTORY:
By Alexandra Frisbie
“If you want change, make the change. Put yourself in the game.”
Like many other institutions in America, the real estate system is built on and steeped in white supremacy and racism. Home ownership builds generational wealth and equity, which in turn can pay for things like student loans and other educational and lifetime investments. There is a big disparity between the size and location of real estate available to white people and Black people, which perpetuates a vicious cycle in which it is extremely difficult for Black people to build generational wealth.
Kim Vendryes learned this from the time she was a child, when her mother used to drive around Greenwich, Westport and Black Rock, Connecticut to expose her to other nice neighborhoods and let her know that anything was attainable. As Kim recalls, her mother used to buy houses in Bridgeport for two or three thousand dollars and work on them to sell at a profit. This sparked her interest in real estate at a young age.
Kim became interested in investments and wanted to be her own broker. She originally shied away from real estate because she didn’t like sales. Instead, Kim worked for a large healthcare organization, doing nothing related to real estate, but her interest and passion for real estate never waned. In 2018, Kim “woke up”, in her own words, and decided to register for classes to obtain her real estate license. She took the required sales classes and passed the state test on her first try.
Kim has been in business now for just about three years. Her business is almost 100% referral based. She views real estate ownership as more than a transaction; it is a life experience that should be equally available to everyone. Her strength is helping people who may be afraid of commitment to real estate to understand that it can facilitate them to get what they want. Kim has primarily mentored first-time home buyers and says it is incredibly gratifying to see them learn firsthand that home ownership is achievable.
One experience Kim shared was of a long time friend of hers who was raised by her grandparents and never knew her own mother. She never thought she could be a homeowner. Then, one day, her uncle was selling his house. Her friend was interested, but needed help through the process. She was very nervous, but Kim walked her through it and when she bought the house, it changed her confidence--not only about homeownership but also in so many other aspects of her life.
Kim has conducted several workshops over the past few years to assist with minority homeownership. She is planning to launch a “Main Street Initiative” to teach prospective homeowners about credit and wealth, provide educational empowerment and possibly partner with mortgage companies to provide a product to assist with down payments and closing costs.
Kim wants people to know she is very approachable and happy to answer any questions about homeownership. She can be contacted at (203) 816-1764 or on Facebook. When you call her, mention you read about Kim Vendryes on ShopBlackCT.com!
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT DIRECTORY:
By Brenda De Los Santos
Summertime Fine. Living Single. Get Ta Steppin’. Gramm’s Kitchen. These are just a few of the varieties of candles and wax melts made by So Black Candle Co., “the place where culture meets lit scents,” based in New London, CT. Kylah Chadwick, owner and creative force behind the online business, combined her love for candles with elements of Black culture to create the business in September of 2020.
Chadwick hand makes all of her products, and has done extensive research and testing to ensure that her candles and melts are the best. Her products use a parasoy wax blend, which she says has a nice scent throw, and she customizes the amount of fragrance in each variety based on the type of jar used. She has even researched to ensure her candles have the right wick so her candles have strong scent throws, slow, clean burns, as well as longer burn times. Chadwick notes, “Before you ever get the candle there is so much testing that goes in behind it. I double check the packaging and the candle itself. I go above and beyond to make sure when the candles arrive they have a good experience.” She has even gone so far as to contact shipping services on behalf of her customers.
A one-woman show, the business keeps her very busy — she does everything herself, from website creation and maintenance, designing her product labels, and regular trips to the post office to ship orders. She thinks that being relatable to people is a big part of providing great customer service. “At first, some people don’t realize there is an actual person behind the business,” she says, “but then people see that I am a regular person listening to their concerns.”
With many other handcrafted candle businesses out there, Chadwick knows the concept behind her candles and melts stands out. “People will see a label and connect to it whether it's a show that they remember or that the Gramm candle reminds them of their grandma.” Some of her most popular varieties are 90’s R&B, a sangria scent that comes with a playlist, Double Melanin, a cocoa butter and cashmere scent, and her sample packs, which include nine varieties in tea light form. Her Black culture-centered products are available as wax melts, 4 ounce candles in a tin, or 8 ounce candles in a glass jar, as well as two different options for sample packs.
“People will see a label and connect to it whether it's a show that they remember or that the Gramm candle reminds them of their grandma.”
Having gone to school for social work (she has a masters degree in it) and currently working as a full-time crisis specialist, candle making has given her a creative outlet; She sees each candle as a work of art. “I feel like I found my passion,” she says, “I knew I wanted to make it into a business, I just didn’t expect it to go this fast.” So Black Candle Co. celebrates it’s one-year anniversary in September 2021, and Chadwick’s next goal is to be working for herself.
Find So Black Candle Co. on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or visit their website to shop or learn more.
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT DIRECTORY:
By Alicia Brown
“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” is an anonymous quote that seems fitting for Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co., a growing company based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Oh D’Luxe is owned by Oddette Staple-Brown, an amazing candle making guru.
During the beginning of Covid-19 pandemic, many people seemed to be trying new things. Some found yoga, and some, like Staple-Brown, dabbled in online language courses. But it wasn’t until she remembered that she loved candle making—after all, she has an “utter obsession with all things with amazing scents”—that she was fully inspired to dive deeper into it. She started trying out different waxes, settling on soy-based as her preference.
“I am of the belief that scents play a great role in cultivating a tranquil and elevated state of mind. The candles I would smell in the store did not smell the same once they were taken home and lit,” she explained. “So, I went online and found a whole community of candlemakers."
What Staple-Brown was referring to is the term for how a candle smells in the store compared to when it burns at home: cold throw and hot throw. She claims that “hot throw,” or consistency between both experiences—what you smell before and during a candle burning—is key.
The candle makers group on Facebook, which was very collaborative and open to sharing their ideas, helped her learn all things “wax-in-ating”, like techniques with materials, temperatures and scents. Soon after, she shared her new creations with her friends at church, who fell in love with them!
In September 2020, Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co. was born. With her husband by her side, she knew she’d have some great support as she embarked on her mission to create candles that would satisfy her requirements for quality, appearance and an amazing scent profile.
“Throughout this journey of experiments and discovery I found a love and passion for this whole new world that opened up to me and what started as a hobby has now transcended into Oh D'Luxe Candle Company."
“What makes this work is that my husband loves chemistry,” she explained.
And, that’s what candle-making is all about. It’s not just about pouring wax and calling it a day. Ratios of wax to scented droplets, which wick works best for burn time and many other factors are things Staple-Brown considers when crafting her candles.
“Where my weakness is, that’s his strength,” she said. “And I thank God every day for it.”
Staple-Brown continues to learn and add to the Facebook group, giving back to the online community that was so giving to her. She also looks forward to giving back to her local community by teaching students about the candle making business once the pandemic passes. Oh D'Luxe Candles strongly believes in giving back—they actively donate a percentage of their profits each month to help offer educational opportunities to youth.
“Throughout this journey of experiments and discovery I found a love and passion for this whole new world that opened up to me and what started as a hobby has now transcended into Oh D'Luxe Candle Company,” shared Staple-Brown. “Remembering ‘our why’, we have fittingly employed the mission statement ‘to provide luxurious candles on a budget.’”
Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co was birthed from Staple-Brown’s inherent need to find something interesting to do during the pandemic, and was first supported by friends and family. Thanks to her new endeavor, playing with scents, wicks and waxes has now turned into a business.
“I have so many ideas where I want to see this business go,” she shared. “And I am thankful for everyone who has supported me.”
All Oh D’Luxe candles are hand poured in small batches to ensure that we provide quality products. Their ingredients are 100% American-grown soy wax, phthalate-free fragrance oils complete with lead free wicks to ensure a clean burn and amazing scents while also being non-toxic.
Find Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co. on Facebook and Instagram, or shop online at ohdluxecandles.com.
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT.COM DIRECTORY: