Entrepreneurship is filled with highs and lows and growing up in a home where both parents were self-employed, I’ve witnessed the good and bad. November is National Entrepreneurship Month and I decided to share how traumatic life events affect entrepreneurs through the eyes of my sister, Khaleelah. It’s been three years since we lost our mom, Susie Ann Amin, and our worlds have changed. So here we go.
SOQWEENLY: Introduce yourself. Who is Khaleelah Amin?
KHALEELAH:“I'm a 39-year-old avid fitness enthusiast. I love exploring and learning who I am from a spiritual perspective. I enjoy singing, personal development, and spending time with loved ones.
I possess a bachelor's degree in Business Administration with a minor in Information Systems from DeVry University. I earned my Master in Business Administration with a concentration in Project Management and Financial Analysis from Keller Graduate School of Management.
Since 2014, I’ve been managing our family restaurant, Salaam Seafood, and became the Business Operations Manager in 2016. I’m the sole decision maker from financials to inventory management, forecasting, payroll, hiring, and training.”
SOQWEENLY: I have always wanted to follow in my sister’s footsteps. She is the reason why I went to college and pursued my Master in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. She’s my big sister.
SOQWEENLY: How did you get into entrepreneurship?
KHALEELAH:“I’ve been around entrepreneurship since the age of six. Honestly, it fell into my lap and it wasn't my first choice. My career goal was to be an executive at a consulting firm presenting to clients globally and travelling the world.
Growing up in an entrepreneurial home you experience early on what it means "to help out at the store". I started helping out at Salaam Seafood at 14 years old a couple days a week. I would help my mother wash off different vegetables, clean refrigerators, and sweep floors.
At the age of 22, after going through two layoffs due to 9/11, I decided to pursue a business venture with my father and mother. In 2002, we opened Jannah Downtown Cafe in Griffin.
The business concept was created by me while in graduate school and received financial backing from the government agency, Small Business Association. We were in business for six years and this was my first business venture.”
SOQWEENLY: I had no idea at the time when we were preparing to open Jannah Downtown Café what was taking place. I just remember the entire family working seven days a week between both restaurants and having a good time. We were all invested.
SOQWEENLY: What’s the biggest misconception of entrepreneurship?
KHALEELAH:“I have noticed that there is a surge in the glorification of entrepreneurship which is awesome but there are some misconceptions.
1. You get to take off when you want.
2. You make a lot of money.
3. Entrepreneurs can do it by themselves.”
SOQWEENLY: The food service industry is one of the hardest businesses to run. According to CNBC approximately 60% of new restaurants fail within the first year and 80% close before their fifth anniversary. If you break even, you are doing well.
SOQWEENLY: What’s the biggest reward of entrepreneurship?
KHALEELAH:“Seeing an idea for a product or service you created be purchased by people is a wonderful feeling. As a second-generation entrepreneur, I’ve received some fruits of my parent’s labor, particularly my mother. She believed in my ability to run this enterprise. It’s unfortunate she isn't here physically to see what her consistency, hard work, and sacrifices produced.”
She believed in my ability to run this enterprise
SOQWEENLY: How did losing mom impact you?
KHALEELAH:“Losing a loved one is something that you will never be prepared for. However, losing a mother, a business partner, best friend and your birthday twin -- I was born on my mother's birthday -- makes you not want to live.
Mom's death sent me into further depression and severe anxiety. I suffer from insomnia, moodiness, appetite suppression, weight loss, loneliness, extreme fatigue, and hair loss. I still struggle to deal with the fact she is no longer here working with me. I often think she's going to walk in the door with her fedora and matching vest on. But, I feel her presence near me at Salaam.”
SOQWEENLY: How did you cope with losing mom?
KHALEELAH:“To deal with losing her I worked and even took on a part-time role with the City of Griffin. This was not a good idea. Firstly, I didn’t allow myself enough time to grieve. I only took off two weeks because I wasn’t thinking about me. I was thinking about my staff and the public.
I was too busy trying to be super-woman, but I was broken. I couldn't process she had died because she didn’t experience grandchildren, our weddings, nor will she see her only son become a future doctor. Her death made me protective of my sister and brother because I was the oldest.”
SOQWEENLY: What did mom’s story as an entrepreneur falling ill teach you?
KHALEELAH:“Seeing how tenacious mom was during her cancer journey was such an experience. I learned how to not let any disease impede on you living your life. Many times, mom would go to chemotherapy, then cook dinner at home, or come to Salaam Seafood just to talk to her customers. She really loved people and cooking.”
I learned how to not let any disease impede on you living your life.
SOQWEENLY: Mental health and entrepreneurship isn’t normally discussed. How did becoming a full-time entrepreneur affect your mental health?
KHALEELAH:“Managing Salaam Seafood requires a great deal of mental energy, working long hours, and attention to detail. Today, aspiring entrepreneurs only discuss the glitzy side. Well I'm here to tell you there is also the hidden side to entrepreneurship.
You must understand entrepreneurship is a lifestyle not a job. You take it home with you. It is a part of you much like a child. From my experience, being an entrepreneur and experiencing a big loss wreaked havoc on me psychologically. I was already suffering from depression, but my mother's passing made it more difficult to mask. Because when you work in a family business and you are stepping in as the successor you will quickly realize how you are compared to the predecessor which adds more pressure.
Another thing I experienced becoming a full-time entrepreneur and losing a love one is severe anxiety. When employees don't show up to work, wearing multiple hats, wishing your loved one was here to support you, and the fear of being a failure had me in the bathroom trying to catch my breath and just uncontrollably crying.”
SOQWEENLY: What motivated you to keep going?
KHALEELAH:I didn’t want mom’s teaching to go to waste. I was in training for 36 months – which is the time she fought her battle – and she taught me every single thing. Plus, she didn’t let me write anything down, I had to go off memory. At the time, it didn’t feel like learning it felt like I was helping her. She was always there as a safety net. When she passed, it was my time to apply what she taught me. Now I know why I lost my job with Atlanta Public School because my mom needed me, and I’d do it all over again.
SOQWEENLY: What is your self-care routine today?
KHALEELAH:“Meditation, aromatherapy, facials, exercise, therapy, journal, and eating more sun kissed foods.”
SOQWEENLY: What would you change if you could go back?
KHALEELAH:“I would have taken more time off when mom passed. I would have set boundaries and not taken on all the unnecessary stress.”
SOQWEENLY: What is the best advice you’d give an entrepreneur?
KHALEELAH:“You can't be all work and no play. Make time for yourself. The human body isn't designed to be under prolonged periods of stress. Build you a team that supports you because you can't do it by yourself. Make sure you have a succession plan or start working on one.”
Sister, thank you for sharing your journey and I'm so proud of you. Dear mama we love you and we’ll continue to honor your legacy.